Japan is one of the top training locations in the world. A country the size of California with a population of over 128 million and few natural resources recognizes the value of education. The culture has a thirst for knowledge with many ideas incorporated from other cultures. Children in Japan take after school enrichment classes from the earliest grades. Literacy in Japan is universal, great importance is placed on academic success. Most organizations have comprehensive training programs. The Japanese automobile companies have had such successful training programs that many American companies are interested in learning about Japanese training content and methods (The Toyota Way). Although training costs for all programs can cost 15-20% more then in the United States, your return on investment will be well worth the effort. To get the most out of your training you will need to tailor the training to your participants. By taking the following steps you can help ensure that you will experience global business success with your training interventions.
Cross cultural communication differences in Japan
The first thing to do at the beginning of your session is to eliminate the use of “Ice Breakers.” Having the participants give brief introductions of themselves is the preferred approach; ideally this could be done at a function prior to the training. Address the trainees by their last name followed by san. If I were a Japanese trainee I would be called Orkin-san. Name cards with the students first names noted is very inappropriate. During your program, trainer directed communication is expected as the participants want to learn from the trainer. The Japanese are very comfortable working in groups; this is a common practice in Japanese culture. Mixing trainer lectures with group work is the best way to conduct your program. During your program be careful not to focus on a particular participant for praise. This could make the participant and group very uncomfortable. If positive recognition is deserved, praise the specific group not the individual.
Next, when pacing your program it is critical to realize that time is looked at in a much more fluid way then in North America. Research has looked at the daily behavior of Japanese senior executives. They are much less event focused then North American senior executives. If important points are being discussed in a meeting the Japanese executive will stay at the meeting when their American counterpart will move on to the next meeting scheduled for the day. Of course as a trainer you want to cover all your program content, but to get the most out of the program and increase trainee satisfaction and retention of content you may need to slightly adjust your schedule to allow trainees to get the most value out of each of the covered modules. Questions to the trainer should be fully addressed before moving on to the next section of your program. Training challenges that could occur are having trainees being very quiet, and as a result you not being clear on participant understanding. Your use of language is key. Although English is studied for many years in the Japanese educational system, many of your trainees may not feel comfortable speaking or understanding English. Avoid idioms, and keep your language as clear and straightforward as possible.
Intercultural communication training in Japan
Popular training programs in Japan often deal with Presentation Skills, Creativity, Communication Skills & Leadership. The Japanese feel comfortable with their approach to business but are always interested in how successful North American companies operate and train their leaders. Lastly, in Japan there is almost no separation between work and after work. Don’t run back to your hotel room at the end of the day. Eating a meal or singing karaoke (English songs are available) with your trainees can have a huge positive impact on the program atmosphere and your connection with the program participants.
By following the above steps you can have a very positive training experience in Japan which will meet the expectations of your organization.
Dr. Neil Orkin is president of Global Training Systems. His organization prepares corporate professionals for Global Business Success and cross-cultural management.