Well, what do you expect?

Earlier this week, I attended a briefing for a trade mission to Japan. Representatives from UKTI in Manchester and Tokyo gave an interesting presentation on what we should expect from Japanese business culture – cue much talk around the etiquette of swapping cards and the meetings full of awkward silences.


One thing that stood out in a way that I’m sure the speakers hadn’t anticipated was the list of expectations that Japanese business people will have. It was all, quite understandably, placed in the context of us plucky westerners entering into a quite alien culture. Like the L.P. Hartley’s past, Japan is a foreign country – they do things differently there.

But let’s look at those expectations:

1) Japanese people expect you to be punctual. Lateness is frowned upon unless the reason is serious and genuine (such as an earthquake!)

2) If you say you will do something, you are expected to follow it through. 

3) You should produce work of quality. Shabbiness is frowned upon and corners should never be cut.

This is another culture. And yet there is nothing in those three expectations that should be alien. At all.

We in the UK have much to be proud of and, when we do business well, we’re up there among the best. But, in my experience, we could do with having a few of those expectations ingrained in our own business culture.

I’ve encountered countless situations where at least one of these expectations has been flagrantly abused – people turn up late with the lamest of excuses; promises in meetings go ignored; emails go unanswered; services are rendered with barely any thought, and communication is sloppy with virtually no consideration for basic grammar and punctuation.

If you’re meeting a mate, fine. But there’s no excuse in business for not observing any of the principles that, absurdly, are defined as being unique to our friends in the Far East. If we’re to avoid the somewhat scary reversal of fortunes that lay on our horizon (think emerging markets taking over supposedly ‘developed’ countries) we’d better change our mindset. And fast.


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