Friday, July 22, 2011

Seeking Consensus in Japan - Nemawashi

Japan Culture : Nemawashi…nema what..?
In short, nemawashi means to seek a consensus before a decision is made.

What does it mean to have all the information before someone asks you for opinion in front of your colleagues?
What is the difference between the Japanese approach to life and business vs. the western approach?

Japan’s ancient principles of wa (wah) – perfect harmony and amae (ah-my) – absolute trust were designed to eliminate conflict in al relationships, personal as well as business. Over many generations these concepts were to become a part of the psyche of the Japanese and influenced every aspect of their culture to a significant degree…one of the ways that the Japanese attempted to conform to the dictates of wa and amae was to devise a way to deal with each other – in business as well as private things – that avoided disharmony and protected everyone’s face (meaning to save ones face or to not be embarrassed or feel public humility).
- From Bilingual Books: Japanese Nuance in Plain English (pp63)

What does nemawashi really mean? I suppose it is one of those traditional cultural qualities that when mentioned to native Japanese you receive nervous laughter about how you really understand the Japanese heart, and yet they hope that you don’t.

Nemawashi to me really highlights the difference between Japan and the ‘west’. That means the focus on the group vs. the individual. In Japan all emphasis is put on the will of the group, at all costs.

In Japan, when we are discussing business in meetings and items of significant change it is paramount to discuss with all or your key contacts before presenting. The western way or approach would be for us to draft our own great new idea and to ‘blow everybody away’ (impress everyone) at the next meeting with our great new idea with an eye on a promotion or accolades. This works in the west but in Japan will almost always fall on shocked and embarrassed meeting members. Japanese people don’t like surprises; they avoid confrontation at almost all costs. This is why it is not only common but also an absolute must to gain the feedback and positive push from key members before any meeting. The logic is simple, you go to the key people who will support you or you need for approval of your idea or plans, more importantly you will receive feedback on the groups needs.

How to engage Japanese people using ‘nemawashi’ to earn trust, build relationships and ultimately move forward with business or relations?

( Above a Japanese Izakaya lantern aka a Japanese pub)
Some humble tips:
1. Find out who will be involved in the key decision regarding your ‘business’ or relationships
2. Find times and ways to engage with these key players (with the help of a translator if necessary) by:
a) small informal meetings ‘one on one’ within or outside the organization
b) have lunch with key members who are too busy to go out after work
c) take the members out or ask them to take you out (if a visitor in Japan) and casually engage with them individually (i.e. each one at a time, not as a group discussion) over dinner or drinks, asking for their opinion on your ideas and seek their honest feedback, be genuine.

3. Have you listened and understood their feedback? Good. Now find ways to input those recommendations into your plan without crediting them outloud, i.e. as simple nod when mentioning the idea in your presentation will show you did your due diligence and acknowledge them discretely.

Overall though this just seems to be common sense to seek input from all the interested parties beforehand and when it comes time to officially (in a meeting format) put forth your idea to do business you will be in a position where all key members have already heard the ‘pitch’ and will be far more likely to move forward.

(Cheers or Kanpai in Japanese)

If it is the first time they are hearing the official ‘first pitch’ in a meeting they probably will not be interested or you may need to go back and start again. You will probably need to engage in nemawashi at some point regardless so why not do it first! Good luck!

I welcome any feedback and comments on my take on the Japanese idea of nemawashi…what have your experiences been?

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