“Selling is a skill. And an important skill for business.”
I never realized that my Japanese cultural habits affected my business habits.
In old Japanese culture, a woman’s respectable role was a stay at home mom. The average family had two kids. The father went to work and the mother stayed home. The father provided for the family. The mother raised the children and ran the household. The roles were very defined.
But, over the years, the roles started to change. Today, more and more women in Japan are working. Their roles resemble women in the West. They choose to work to be independent. Motherhood is often put on the back burner or some decide that it’s not meant for them.
In my day, having a family was the norm. I had a career before marriage. Stopped soon after the baby arrived. Then because we moved, I was not able to work. I resume working much later in life. Being out of the workforce for many years, made going back to work that much more difficult.
I went back to school to study interior design. Then I started an interior design partnership with a fellow student and friend. Frankly, I was not used to a business environment. What we lacked in business acumen, we made up with great enthusiasm and good design skills. After a few years, the partnership fell apart. One left town and the other decided not to continue.
So, I ventured on my own. There was a long and steep learning curve. One of the most important skills in business is selling. I am not a natural seller. And one of the reasons is because I come from a Japanese cultural background. Selling is like the opposite of our cultural norm.
In America, everything is very clear. Black is black and white is white. Yes means yes and no means no. Yet, in Japanese culture, it’s not that clear cut and dry. Many things are “gray.” It may be difficult to comprehend but sometimes a “yes” means “no”.
Let me give you an example. My Japanese girlfriend had an American friend who studied Japanese in America. His spoken Japanese was very good. He came to Japan for a visit to practice his language skills and wanted to meet up with her.
She took him to a friend’s house for tea so he could experience a real Japanese home. They enjoyed the afternoon conversing in Japanese. Soon it was time to leave.
Then the hostess said, “oh, if you’d like, you’re welcome to stay for dinner.”
My friend responded, “thanks for the invitation but we’ve been here long enough. We already took so much of your time. We should be going.” That’s the culturally accepted response.
But, her American friend didn’t understand that. He said, “no, let’s stay. We don’t have to go anywhere.” He had every right to respond that way. He wanted to stay.
You see, Japanese culture can be confusing. The hostess meant it, but not really. Even though she said they were welcome to stay, she really didn’t want them to stay. My girlfriend understood that. It’s knowing and reading the situation. That’s the “gray” of Japanese culture. It’s a subtle nuance that is learned through experience, not through books. A Westerner may think that’s so bizarre. But, any Japanese would understand the situation.
Because of these different cultural habits that are ingrained in me, I was making poor business decisions. You see, it was difficult for me to be more precise and clear in my business. And that is not a good thing.
It’s something that I had to overcome and am still overcoming. I’m not that nuts that I say yes when I mean no. My problem is, I lack clarity. I need to be more specific on what my services include so there is no misunderstanding. And I have to be more persistent.
I’m now aware of my “different” habits and am learning to improve by reading books and learning from others. It’s a process, but at least now I’m beginning to understand why it’s been so hard for me.
I’m not saying all Japanese culture is like this. There are many positive aspects too. But, I found that some of my cultural habits have been a roadblock for me. Living and learning.
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