Categories: Uncategorized

The power of being a “Gaikokujin” in Japan [Part 4]

by Anna
Published on: February 4, 2021
Categories: Gaikokujin, Uncategorized
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Common Gaikokujin mistakes  – How to not be seen as a jerk
[ Collaborative blog written by Anna Pinsky and David Wagner ]

While the list of “How could I have done that?” is endless, we discuss some common mistakes Gaikokujin make that we have observed in the workplace with Japanese.  

Consensus decision making – it’s not just about what is said in the meeting

It does not take long to learn that many Japanese are most comfortable when working in teams or in a group.  Responsibilities are shared, cooperation is generally smooth, and consensus on decisions thereby achieved.  Yet it is attaining consensus formation where we find many non-Japanese are challenged.  What to do and how to do it?  While there are no standard or simple answers, we know cultural norms dictate the terms.

One such traditional norm is “nemawashi”.  Nemawashii is, in essence, the act of forming a consensus among the various players involved before the actual meeting occurs. Thus, when the actual meeting happens everyone knows what is coming and the process becomes a rubber stamp event.  In other words, nemawashii establishes a consensus through idea exchange so that agreement is reached by a majority of those involved before the meeting even occurs. Conflict is reduced and there are normally few surprises.  

This is not to say that decisions are never actually made in an actual meeting. They are, but many Japanese are not experienced or accustomed to making decisions on the spot. And, in fact, training on how to do so is often needed to be impactful.  However, in face-to-face or internet-based meetings, it is best to be patient, be seen as a team player, and not be too pushy.

Meetings and the value of knowing when not to speak

For many non-Japanese, it is hard not to want to dive in immediately with suggestions or ideas to solve the problem at hand. Doing so in a traditional meeting usually leads to non-Japanese dominating the flow – and many Japanese are happy to sit back and watch it all unfold as it is low risk and entertaining to see.  Instead of jumping in with opinions, you can often play a more valuable role of noticing who is not speaking and invite more voices around the table for their ideas. This not only enables you to embody inclusive behavior and leadership but also helps everyone around the table get a much better sense of what is really going on but not necessarily being said.

And, it would be remiss of us not to share here that there is more than one category of “gaikokujin”.  As outsiders coming from predominantly white, western and English-speaking cultures, we are often treated as VIPs or experts even in situations in which we have no right or experience to be seen as such. Dave Spector*, an icon in the Japanese media for over 30 years, is one case in point.  He often comments on American/global affairs even though he does not have a degree or academic background in foreign policy or political science.  

Even with media darlings such as Mr. Spector, it is well known that non-Japanese on the whole can experience discrimination and obstacles in Japan. Is this discrimination or lack of awareness and what is the difference? Perhaps we can cover this in another article.  The discussion about “gaijin” vs. “gaikokujin” is full of definition debate, but as we noted in an earlier piece in this series, “gaikokujin” or “outside country person” is generally the preferred phrase. We’ll comment more on this later on in this series.

Don’t be led astray by stereotypical Japanese business custom training

Although we do speak in generalizations in order to draw out some trends and patterns, it is good to remember that each organization in Japan, like any organization regardless of location, is unique with its own explicit and implicit rules, expectations and behaviors. 

Just to share one example, we have both worked in organizations which break the norm of so-called typical Japanese cross-cultural business culture. Here is an example of some of the contrasts we have experienced:  Working in a family run business in which polite language was not the norm and in fact the work ethic was only to talk if it was about work. One employee even got verbally reprimanded for talking about the weather!  This same organization had a significant absence of meetings – only met when a decision needed to be made.  This is quite a contrast to other organizations in which we have worked, and to what you might hear in typical Japanese business culture training, which will most likely stress politeness and consensus-building meetings as the norm. 

Thus, one clear take away is to remember that background national culture and history may influence the organizational culture, but as with any organization there are other aspects which can be stronger drivers for culture and behavior such as the industry or historical context of the organization.  

Focus on discovery and learning mode from Day 1

In this respect, we would recommend starting from Day 1 in discovery mode to understand the communication styles of the teams and organization more broadly.  Cross-cultural communication models and frameworks can be helpful to structure and organize the learning curve. 

One such model is the six dimensions of cultural difference (1. Directness, 2. Enthusiasm 3. Formality, 4. Assertiveness, 5.Self-Promotion, 6. Personal Disclosure ) by Professor Andy Molinsky.** 

You can use such a model to conduct a self-assessment and compare it with the existing cultural communication style of a new team that you are joining.  For example, you might evaluate yourself as “high” on the dimension of Enthusiasm, but observations indicate that the team shows up as “low” on the same dimension. This would be a good indicator of where you might need to adjust your own style to be more effective in the team context. Alternatively, this is a useful self-assessment for all team members to do in order to understand and compare their own preferences. They can then work together to see how the team can increase awareness of their own diversity of style, and work together to create a more inclusive team environment.  (You can find a quick and scrappy spreadsheet tool for a self versus team cultural difference assessment here )

In this article we have provided some general hints and tips on how to avoid the mistakes that many of us have made. We hope it will be helpful in understanding how to get the most of your “outsider” gaikokujin status in effecting positive change in Japan regardless of your role, organization and work context.

**  Global dexterity references by Professor A. Molinsky: 

Molinsky, A. (2013). Global dexterity: How to adapt your behavior across cultures without losing yourself in the process. Boston: Harvard Business Review Press
Molinsky, A. (5 September 2017). Want to Boost Your Cultural Intelligence? Do This 1 Thing First.

Anna Pinsky specializes in organizational development and transformation with 15+ years experience advising global organizations in Japan and across Asia. 
David Wagner is a 35 year veteran of achieving behavioral adaptation inside 550+ organizations across Japan, Asia, Europe, North America and the Middle East. 

View from Roppongi Mori Hills Tower towards Tokyo Tower

The power of being a “Gaikokujin” in Japan [Part 3]

by Anna
Published on: January 25, 2021
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How Gaikokujin can help balance tradition and innovation

[ Written by Anna Pinsky and David Wagner ]

In this segment, we feel it is worth calling out an often overlooked benefit of having gaikokujin work alongside Japanese in organizations:  balancing tradition with innovation.

It is precisely because of the “outside” perspective that “gaikokujin” bring that means they can find a way forward by challenging long-held traditional organizational assumptions while unearthing what aspects of the past stories and rituals have untapped potential to help the organization grow and adapt in the future.

Readers who have lived in Japan already know how different the “real Japan” is compared to the image portrayed in the media with segments on sumo wrestlers or geisha.  Indeed, typical Japanese employees these days are more likely to have an interest in football or baseball than sumo wrestling or karate.  

This may seem like a glib point but there is a more serious angle for organizations – for anyone wanting to create a workplace that takes advantage of both tradition and innovation, it may well be the non-Japanese employees who can speak with equal credibility about observed customs.   

Take the sphere of sports or well-being as one example. You will find that it is non-Japanese who are increasingly likely to dedicate themselves and espouse the values of traditional Japanese martial arts.  Then there are individuals, like Alex Kerr with his initiatives to restore traditional Japanese housing, who have played a significant role in revitalizing interest around different aspects of traditional Japanese culture. (In addition, Kerr’s decades of longevity in Japan garner deep respect by many Japanese for his willingness to learn, accept and integrate Japanese tradition. )

Translating this to aspects of tradition in organizations, there is the example of the ritual of the “chorei” or “morning corporate recitation” still practiced by many traditional Japanese firms.  Starting at 9:00 a.m. sharp, it is done not only to remind everyone of the organization’s values but also an opportunity to work together as a team as purpose and meaning are confirmed.  It is an important aspect of unison and commitment and an opportunity to see and be seen.  

It is easy to discount practices such as the “chorei” (reciting the organization’s values together at the start of the day) as outdated or an inefficient use of resources, but the value of rituals has increasingly been recognized as a way to help individuals and organizations handle the challenges of the pandemic – “The Power of Ritual” published this year by Casper Ter Kuile is just one example.  Another is George Kohlrieser who specifically highlights the benefits of ritual in Japanese organizations in his article “The Hidden Perils of Unresolved Grief” (published in the McKinsey Quarterly in September 2020): “Japanese organizations are known for rituals when there are senior-leadership transitions, giving space & time for the organization to recognize the past & move into the future.” 

Patience with change through internal promotion leads to predictable leadership shifts:  As is the norm in many long-standing Japanese organizations, gradual promotion of long-time devotees who know the company deeply is the safe way to go.  Decades of experience among trusted relationships is a safe recipe for continuity.  As a result, “outsiders” are often not the first preference of choice when it comes to top positions of leadership.  This becomes another challenge for non-Japanese in their quest to integrate and become accepted over time.  But this, too, is gradually changing particularly in non-traditional organizations and Japanese companies seeking global growth.

In short, it’s all about adopting and adapting.  This is in line with the cross-cultural communication theory of “style shifting” in order to accommodate cultural norms and also lies at the heart of managing tradition with innovation.  How does a non-Japanese “fit in” to a traditional environment where innovation needs to thrive?  How can non-Japanese integrate tradition and rituals to adapt to different ways of getting things done?   It is precisely because of the “outside” perspective that “gaikokujin” bring that means they can find a way forward by challenging long-held traditional organizational assumptions while unearthing what aspects of the past stories and rituals have untapped potential to help the organization grow and adapt in the future.

Anna Pinsky specializes in organizational development and transformation with 15+ years experience advising global organizations in Japan and across Asia. 

David Wagner is a 35 year veteran of achieving behavioral adaptation inside 550+ organizations across Japan, Asia, Europe, North America and the Middle East.

View from Yamadera (山寺) in Yamagata Prefecture in the autumn

The power of being a “Gaikokujin” in Japan [Part 2]

by Anna
Published on: January 23, 2021
Categories: Uncategorized
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[ Written by Anna Pinsky and David Wagner ]

How “Gaikokujin” can make it safe to bring all of your “selves” to work

Due to the limited number of non-Japanese working in Japan, it is probably safe to say that most Japanese organizations have limited experience harnessing non-Japanese as work partners.  While some Japanese organizations are very experienced and skilled at multicultural collaboration, many still do not know how to attain the full benefit of the diversity that comes from being from a different country or culture.

Even so, over time inclusion and diversity have become more prominent for businesses in Japan.  Recent corporate governance reforms being considered by the Japanese government to increase women and non-Japanese in executive positions in Japan is just one example of this ( Will Japan follow recent global trends to create more ethnically diverse corporate boards?  ). 

However, while gender and nationality are regularly highlighted aspects of diversity, diversity of thought is often overlooked. Whereas the nail that sticks up in Japan gets hammered down, there is little room for the squeaky wheel to get the grease.  Herein lies the challenge for working in Japan in a multicultural setting.  How to maximize and synergize global teams in Japan?

It is clear that each individual in an organization brings a unique perspective based on life experience and skills. However, often in Japan, the organization can place too much emphasis on common experience or shared mental models in order to get quicker alignment with group norms.  Furthermore, in high context cultures such as Japan which focuses on implicit understanding through “reading the air”, the pressure to conform means there can be considerable risk in expressing diverse opinions or aspects of one’s own identity. This tends to reduce overall risk taking within the organization. And it is non-Japanese employees who are often uniquely positioned to be catalysts in cultivating a safe environment for diverse teams to work optimally, effectively and efficiently.

Making it safe to express more diverse views 

In the same way that our “gaikokujin menkyo” – or “foreigner license” – allows us to sidestep many social expectations, being non-Japanese means we can also be seen as providing a safe place to exchange views. Precisely because we have not been brought up in the same cultural context that dictates more narrowly what is OK or not OK to say or do, non-Japanese employees can provide a place in which Japanese employees can more freely express opinions or ideas, or even parts of their identity, that might otherwise produce risky outcomes in certain circumstances.

For example, we have both been in situations in which experienced Japanese employees have sought us out (informally or formally) to share views and sense-check ideas first before taking them to their colleagues.  This may also be thought of as a form of “nemawashii” or “consensus formation” before a formal decision is made, but It is not uncommon to observe quite a different level of animation and energy as individuals feel less inhibited to “think out loud” knowing that they will not be judged on general social expectations.

English language as tool to cut through hierarchy

English language also acts as a kind of freeing mechanism for idea exchange because it does not come with the “cultural baggage” that Japanese business language does, such as the relationship in hierarchy that dictates which verb form or conjugation to choose or the word selection that is influenced by one’s gender.  Unlike Japanese business language, English language does not require that a person change how one speaks depending on whether the person is senior or junior in the hierarchy chain.

For this reason we always encourage non-native English speakers who are not confident outside of their mother tongue of Japanese not to worry about speaking perfect English but rather focus on using English as a tool for communication.

The focus on perfect English grammar, instilled from a very young age by the education system in Japan, may prevent many Japanese from using English openly for fear of making mistakes, but those who overcome this mindset necessarily permit themselves to enhance risk-taking as communicators.  This leads to increased confidence, enhanced assertion and enables Japanese employees to play a more active role in increasing the impact within their own team. Furthermore, this becomes especially useful for organizations in which employees need flexible communication styles in varying cultural contexts, moving from external Japanese clients to international conference calls.

All of this is not to say we feel Japanese should use English any more than non-Japanese should speak in Japanese.  It is always contextual, based on the situation, the players and the goals at hand.  Even so, it is clear that in the change journey, non-Japanese can collaborate to empower Japanese business partners to realize the full benefits of team diversity by creating conditions that make it safe to express the multiple facets of diversity that each individual brings to an organization.

Anna Pinsky specializes in organizational development and transformation with 15+ years experience advising global organizations in Japan and across Asia.  

David Wagner is a 35 year veteran of achieving behavioral adaptation inside 550+ organizations across Japan, Asia, Europe, North America and the Middle East.

Mt Fuji seen from Mt Jinba in the winter

The power of being a “Gaikokujin” in Japan [Part 1]

by Anna
Published on: January 16, 2021
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[ Written by Anna Pinsky and David Wagner ]

The name says it all:  Outside (外 ), Country (国), Person (人) – Outsiders.  That is how non-Japanese are often viewed in Japan.  And that is the mind-set many Japanese have when it comes to non-Japanese. 

People who come from outside Japan are certainly welcome to visit, but even now, with a persistent labor shortage, the idea of non-Japanese as partners in prosperity is challenged by centuries of isolation and doubts about long-term devotion to the country.  Compared to Europe and the United States, immigration numbers speak for themselves.

So how does this play out in the workplace?  How can team synergies develop and grow among people who may not expect “gaikokujin” to stay long-term?  How can organizations achieve long-term targets if relationships are not nurtured at optimal levels?  

In the first in this series, we look at how “gaikokujin” can be catalysts for change towards  more effective workplace environments and working relationships in Japan through the lens of culture and hierarchy.

Culture eats strategy for breakfast…..

There are many desirable aspects of society that make Japan much more attractive as a place to live and work compared to other countries: be it group orientation of “shuudanshugi”, consideration for how one’s behavior impacts others (such as that expressed in the concept of “meiwaku wo kakenai”) or even just the ability to sit with silence and not feel the need to push in with self-promotion.   

However, these aspects of the culture which cultivate a more productive and collaborative working environment can also have the opposite effect when paired with traditionally hierarchical Japanese organizations.

The Japanese language and traditional structures in Japanese society foster organizational structures that are hierarchical and rigid. This creates an environment in which it can be very difficult to challenge assumptions through questions towards those positions of power or higher up the hierarchy.   

This is observable long before one joins a company.  Take, for example, the kohai/sempai concept (“junior”/”senior”) in Japanese education.  Even these terms are difficult to translate into English because they are imbued with assumptions and expectations of what can be done or said depending on your position in the hierarchy.

The same unspoken rules apply in organizations depending on whether you are the boss (“joushi”)  or more senior in position, versus being a subordinate (“buka”) or in a more junior position.  Cultural rules based on position in the hierarchy often mean that a question interrogating an existing approach or disagreeing with an opinion can be seen as attacking or threatening when directed towards someone in a more senior position in the hierarchy.  

Such behavior is the exact opposite of what is required for a productive and effective work environment based on research by Amy Edmondson into psychological safety which describes an environment in which “people feel they can speak up at work without fear that their manager or colleagues will think less of them” *

…. and gaikokujin eat culture for lunch

However, this is where a gaikokujin employee can have magical impact!  Being non-Japanese means that a gaikokujin can sidestep the unspoken expectations of behavior embedded in the hierarchical relationships and ask a question to individuals across the hierarchy more easily than a Japanese colleague. In fact, there are numerous times when we’ve found that as a non-Japanese, we can ask the question to someone senior that might be on everyone’s mind but they are afraid to ask. This is because as non-Japanese, we are not necessarily held to the same cultural expectations as Japanese.  Thus, there are less assumptions and fewer expectations made about how we should or should not behave.

In addition to the hierarchy of relationships there is also the minefield of saving face (mentsu wo tamotsu).  For anyone who has taught classes or run meetings and conferences in Japan, you’ll relate to being met with silence when you ask if there are any questions. Then as soon as you step out of the room, you are bombarded with questions from people who were too afraid to ask for fear of “losing face” in front of colleagues. 

Gaikokujin – a license to cultivate effective organizations 

While saving face may be a universal human trait, asking questions through assertive initiative is not the norm for many in Japan.  Yet using what we call “gaikokujin menkyo” – a “foreigner license” – permits us to do many things Japanese either cannot or will not do freely or unconstrained.

The ultimate question faced by long-term non-Japanese in the workplace, whether Japanese or non-Japanese owned and operated, is how well the organization promotes integration.   That is a leadership issue.  We have both worked in Japanese traditional and non-traditional firms as well as non-Japanese companies.  What is clear is the corporate culture varies.  Being a “gaikokujin” is no different than Japanese in so many organizations.  Where the rubber meets the road is company leadership, values and role-modeling of behaviors that support a culture of clear, open and inclusive communication for all employees.


Anna Pinsky specializes in organizational development and transformation with 15+ years experience advising global organizations in Japan and across Asia.  

David Wagner is a 35 year veteran of achieving behavioral adaptation inside 550+ organizations across Japan, Asia, Europe, North America and the Middle East. 

Early morning at Dentsuin Temple

Learning Japanese: “Must Have” texts for Japanese language learners

by Anna
Published on: December 14, 2014
Categories: Uncategorized
Comments: 1 Comment

“Must have” texts for Japanese language learners

I was going through my library of books recently and came across some of my old Japanese language textbooks. It got me to thinking about what I would see as some of the “must have” texts for serious learners of Japanese language. Some books look quite worn but this testifies to how useful I found them.


Japanese Grammar:

(1) A Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar  – Publisher: The Japan Times

(2) A Dictionary of Intermediate Japanese Grammar – Publisher: The Japan Times

(3) A Dictionary of Advanced Japanese Grammar – Publisher: The Japan Times


(1) Essential Kanji – Author: P.G. O’Neill

(2) Illustrated Japanese Characters – Author/Publisher: Japan Travel Bureau


(1) Effective Japanese Usage Guide – Author: Masayoshi Hirose






Delivering Successful Training and Development Initiatives in High-Context Cultures (ASTD Blog)

by Anna
Published on: February 22, 2014
Categories: Uncategorized
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Originally Published: February 18, 2014 – by Anna Pinsky


In my previous blog, I talked in general about the challenges and opportunities of working in new or unfamiliar international cultural contexts. Now, I would like to focus on the area of training and development in high-context cultures.

Make training safe through careful design of exercises

Effective adult learning requires the provision of a space in which it is safe to try out new skills, where it is acceptable to make mistakes, and where individuals can be given support to learn from those mistakes.

However, in some high-context cultures training can be challenging due to the fact that training participants are going to be less willing to try something new for fear of making mistakes. One reason for this, in Japan, is the traditional education system which focuses on rote learning rather than learning through inquiry. Mistakes are seen as something to avoid at all cost rather than as a part of the learning process itself. Consequently, it is said that the education system does not encourage learning from mistakes and creates an environment of fear.

For example, Japanese students are generally known to be much quieter and less willing to ask questions in classroom situations than their western counterparts. B.J. McVeigh writes inJapanese Higher Education as Myth that it is fear rather than shyness that leads to the lack of a response or questions in a classroom setting.

So, what are the implications for us when we are delivering training in such contexts?

What it means is that we have to be more creative with exercises so that individuals can take the risk to try new things without fear of being seen to “be wrong” in front of others. In practice this might mean focusing on replacing large group exercises with more small group or pair exercises and letting individuals prepare answers or exercises with others before presenting to the wider group.

Take time to check needs with participants—not just the training sponsor

Prior to delivering any training in high-context situations, it is also well worth your time to conduct interviews with several training participants—and not just the training project sponsor.

Doing so will not only enable you to get a better grasp of the participants needs, but also help you start to develop a relationship of trust with individual participants so that they can help act as your supporters to demonstrate various exercises and make other participants more willing to take the risk of trying out new roles and activities during the training itself. Keep in mind that individual interviews can be conducted over the telephone, if necessary. 

Check for insight and awareness first

The Development Pipeline, outlined by D.B. Petersen in The Evidence-Based Coaching Handbook, is one model used by many coaches to gauge where the greatest need for development is required for an individual client. In other words, the Development Pipeline is a useful model to identify which aspect of learning might be preventing the individual from making progress with their own development.

Here is a simple summary of the five parts of the Development Pipeline:

  1. Insight: Extent to which the person understands what areas he or she needs to develop in order to be more effective.
  2.  Motivation: The degree to which the person is willing to invest the time and energy it takes to develop oneself.
  3. Capabilities: The extent to which the person has the necessary skills and knowledge.
  4. Real-world practice: The extent to which the person has opportunities to try out new skills at work.
  5. Accountability: The extent to which there are internal and external mechanisms for paying attention to change and providing meaningful consequences. 

Precisely because of potentially different cultural norms and expectations, when delivering training or development initiatives in high-context cultures one should set aside extra time to ensure that “Insight” is addressed. That means making sure you have checked that training participants understand why the training is taking place, what issues the training is intended to address, and what different behaviors and tasks participants will be expected to demonstrate as a result of the training.

What have you learned that you would add to the above list to help others prepare for training in unfamiliar or different cultural contexts? 

Opportunities and Challenges of Working in Multicultural Contexts (ASTD Blog)

by Anna
Published on: January 26, 2014
Categories: Uncategorized
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Originally Published: January 13, 2014 – by Anna Pinsky

I am originally from the United Kingdom, and have been living in Japan for 15 years. Even after all this time in Japan, I still find myself coming across unfamiliar territory and having interactions that challenge my views and assumptions.

Working in multicultural contexts and teams are an excellent opportunity for development. Exposure to diverse people and experiences can uncover that you might be making incorrect assumptions or missing out alternative perspectives due to overreliance on your own cultural background.

Common mistakes

A common mistake in multicultural training or development is making generalizations and assuming that national cultural norms are the same as the organizational norms.

I’ve worked with various companies in Japan, both domestic and international, and in every case, the company culture has been different. More important, the internal culture has challenged my preconceptions on “western” or “eastern” working practices.  In fact, over time I find it increasingly difficult to make general statements about organizations in Japan, the United States, or the United Kingdom.

Indeed, one of the first Japanese organizations I worked for seemed to fit what I had read about in books on Japanese culture. Everyone was very polite, individuals rarely shared their honest opinions in a formal context, and the relationships were very hierarchical.  It was an organization with a long history and an industry in which change was notoriously slow.

However, later on I had the opportunity to work in a Japanese organization in which communication was quite direct. The communication was so direct, in fact, that individuals could come across as quite rude at times. In addition, tasks were carried out by individuals with little reference to their official title or history within the organization. This was a “younger” organization, with a more entrepreneurial, individualist management style.

 Check mutual expectations

When delivering training or development projects for an organization, especially in a different international cultural context, it is always best to check that you understand your counterparts’ expectations. This includes not just the expectations of your role, but also their understanding of the purpose of different tasks and activities.

For example, in some Japanese organizations, formal meetings are primarily spaces for sharing information and decisions are often made outside of the formal meeting. However, in other organizations, the meeting is the place for decisions to be made and information sharing is seen to take place prior to the meeting.

It is always best to check mutual expectations and the perceived purpose of different channels and contexts for communication when joining a new organization or team—and even more so when working in new and unfamiliar international contexts.

Foster multiple methods of inquiry

I had the opportunity to talk to a successful managing director in a western subsidiary of a Japanese-owned company recently. Her advice on working with colleagues from different cultures, such as Japan, was to ask the same question in several different ways to check that you have really grasped the core issues.

In high context cultures, such as Japan, sometimes an individual’s first reaction is to answer questions in line with what they think you want to hear, rather than what they really think. In this respect, the ability to inquire about the same point but using a wide variety of questions is a useful skill to develop when working in international contexts.

Find a trusted informal adviser or mentor

When working in new and unfamiliar cultural contexts, it is very worthwhile trying to find individuals who you can provide you with another perspective or “interpretation” of specific behaviors that you come across in the new working environment.  This doesn’t have to be someone in the same organization, but it should be someone who can help you view the behavior through a different lens and understand what unconscious assumptions you may be making based on your own cultural background.

If you know that you are going to be working on an international assignment for more than a few weeks, it is worth taking time to find out about possible networking opportunities, either within your own industry (such as international ASTD networking groups) or on cross-industry topics, so that you increase your chances of coming across someone who could be a potential informal adviser.

These tips are just starting points. What additional advice would you give people on working in new or unfamiliar cultural environments?

Why coaching is effective – especially in high stakes situations

by Anna
Published on: December 1, 2013
Categories: Uncategorized
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New research carried out by Francesca Gino at Harvard Business School has presented evidence that our decision-making faculties are not at their best when in a state of anxiety.

In summary, the conclusions of the research were that,
(1) “Those in the anxious state were … more likely to take the advice they were given,”,
(2) “Anxiety reduced their ability to discern between good and bad advice”, and
(3) “People who were made to feel anxious were more open to, and more likely to rely on, advice even when they knew that the person offering it had a conflict of interest ” 

These conclusions provide further evidence for utilizing coaching as a method of individual development and growth.  One of the central principles of coaching is that the coachee remains “in the driving seat” and is always accountable for decision-making.  Francesca Gino’s research reveals that the ability to discern good and bad advice is reduced in states of anxiety which is exactly why having access to a coach, rather than simply a mentor or advisor is so important.

The coach facilitates learning and an increase in self-awareness through powerful questions, and the introduction of relevant tools and methods through the coaching process.  However, the choice as to what tools to use and what actions to take are always in the hands of the coachee, not the coach.  In the coaching relationship, the coach is not the advisor but instead helps the individual better see what options might be possible – the choice of which option to take is firmly in the hands of the coachee.

The coaching approach means that an individual in a state of anxiety is not put in danger of being influenced to take one approach over the other.  This decreases the likelihood of an individual making a decision that they would not normally take if under less pressure.

So, for those high stakes decisions where we are under pressure and looking for the “right” answer, getting the support of a coach may be the best place to start.


You can find out more about the research mentioned in this blog via this link on the HBR Blog Network: How Anxiety Can Lead Your Decisions Astray”  By Francesca Gino


“The pictures on radio are better”: why co-creation matters for successful organizational change

by Anna
Published on: March 11, 2013
Categories: Uncategorized
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I happened to catch the program “Something Understood” on BBC Radio 4 today and was impressed by a quote from the radio producer, Simon Elmes, that “the pictures on radio are better.”

I keep on top of what’s happening in the UK via BBC radio news and sometimes listen to the radio dramas not just because of ease of access on the internet, but because I often find the programs are better structured than those on TV. However, it wasn’t until today that I also realized that I like listening to the radio drama programs because I am able to be more “involved” and that the images can be more vivid precisely because I am a co-creator in the experience.

Here we can also find a lesson on successful organizational change: research demonstrates that allowing people to be involved in co-creating or shaping the change – even if in just a small way – increases the engagement and commitment of the person, thereby increasing the likely success of the change.

Employee involvement from an early stage is now part of the change mantra but change programs in business still often end up as top-down instruction because it seems the easier option when time and resources are limited.  Asking people for opinions and advice as part of a change program may feel like it takes up more time, but ultimately it increases commitment, increases the likelihood of success and saves you more time in the long term.

The “pictures on radio are better” because as a listener we can be involved in creating the vision of the story – how could you instill successful change and involve your team in creating the vision of your organization’s story?

Ambiguous Communication leading to low retention rates: Dissatisfied employees in overseas branches of Japanese companies

by Anna
Published on: December 3, 2012
Categories: Uncategorized
Comments: Comments Off on Ambiguous Communication leading to low retention rates: Dissatisfied employees in overseas branches of Japanese companies

Another example of how the traditional style of ambiguous communication is not helping Japanese companies retain staff in their overseas offices.

Mr Toshimasa Akisato from Global Jinzai Ikusei Juku reveals the low scores that Japanese managers receive fromd locally hire staff in overseas offices in terms of gaining trust and providing support.

The original post in Japanese from Toshimasa Akisato copied below:


を対象とした非常に大がかりな調査を早稲田大学政治経済学術院 白木三秀教
塾長 秋里 寿正
 〒542-0083 大阪市中央区東心斎橋1-15-25
リッツビル 4F
電話/FAX: 06-6271-4060
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