Successful meetings in Japan – How to avoid the height of rudeness in the Far East

Language Faux Pas26 November 20143.2k

Despite the increasing prevalence of business technology in our lives, many people prefer certain aspects of the working world to stay the same.

For example, despite the fact that we could use Skype as an excuse never to leave the office, executives still love to travel to meetings and conferences.

Indeed, online magazine Successful Meetings said its readers 'want and expect' to experience the culture of their meeting destination, while a Business Travel Show poll in the UK earlier this year discovered that 76 percent of companies will have bigger budgets for corporate jaunts in 2014 than was the case last year.

And why not? Face-to-face meetings could be just what's needed to clinch a deal, lead to better relationships and stop breakdowns in communication from occurring.

Of course, that's as long as business travelers don't offend their host and render the whole trip dead in the water – because different parts of the world have very different ideas about etiquette when it comes to such engagements.

Interactions in the Western world

Western nations such as the U.S. and Great Britain tend to be pretty informal at meetings, provided nobody displays really bad manners or is extremely late and bursts in as the proceedings are mid-flow.

Business cards can be exchanged almost as an after-thought and may be 'filed' into a back pocket, while refreshments are there for the taking if they're out on a side table.

Furthermore, everyone is permitted to sit down as soon as they arrive – if they don't want to network – and it would probably be considered quite stand-offish not to make small talk with the person in the adjacent seats, perhaps after a quick hand-shake.

How things are done in the Far East

However, anyone traveling to the Far East is likely to encounter a very contrasting scenario – and for first-timers, that could mean being the height of rudeness without some preparation.

For example, it's natural for businesspeople in Japan to bow as well as or instead of offering a handshake, and failing to reciprocate may appear rude from the outset. 

In addition, arriving empty-handed might be a real faux pas, depending on the host's attitude to foreigners, as bringing wrapped gifts is traditional etiquette in this country.

And as for business cards, there are pretty strict rules on how to receive them: always use two hands, compliment the design (or acknowledge it in another way), and never, ever write on it or thrust it pocketwards without a second glance.

Foreign etiquette is something of a minefield – and it's better to be prepared than to render global meetings ineffectual before you've even opened your mouth.

Read more about making your meeting count in Asia in our helpful infographic.


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