Our guest blogger this week is Rochelle Kopp, co-author of “The Lowdown: Business Etiquette – Japan,” which publishes today.
The recruiter I was talking to was incredibly frustrated. She had just sent a terrific candidate to interview for the position of Executive Assistant to the President of a Japanese firm in the U.S. The candidate had excellent qualifications, good experience, and a pleasant personality. Seemed like a perfect fit. And yet the President had rejected her. The reason? At the end of the interview, when she got up to leave the room, the candidate had not pushed her chair back under the table. The President felt that this small breach of etiquette was an indication of inattention, and he was so uncomfortable with it that he decided not to hire the candidate.
From the point of view of those from other countries, being such a stickler for etiquette may seem a bit extreme. However, it’s an excellent example of how for Japanese, etiquette serves as a symbol of what the person is like, and how well they might do their job. In the Japanese point of view, if someone can’t be relied upon to follow the rules of etiquette, what can they be relied upon for?
The emphasis placed on etiquette goes back to the days of the samurai, when strict protocols covered every facet of life, both public and private. And if you broke one of those rules of conduct, the result might be a samurai sword lopping off your head, or a requirement that you commit seppuku (ritual suicide). So in this environment, clearly one would want to pay attention to proper etiquette.
That emphasis on appropriate conduct has carried over into present day Japan. In children’s schooling, a great deal of emphasis is placed on how to act, and how to do things properly. Bookstores are filled with a wide variety of etiquette manuals, covering every conceivable situation. And when employees join companies, their orientation places a heavy emphasis on etiquette training.
Fortunately, most Japanese realize that it’s difficult, if not impossible, for people from other countries to keep track of all the aspects of etiquette in Japan. And most Japanese are more willing to cut foreigners some slack and overlook minor etiquette transgressions than the President who would not hire the candidate who didn’t push her chair in. Yet, for non-Japanese who want to be successful in doing business with Japanese, it’s important to be aware of etiquette as much as possible. The more you can play by the Japanese rules of behavior, the more comfortable they will be with you, and the smoother your business dealings.
We suggest that Rochelle’s book is a good place to start!! - LK