It Is What It Is
It’s easy to take for granted what you know in your bones to be true.
I was reminded of that when I recently read Eric J. McNulty’s excellent article “Your People’s Brains Need Face Time” in which the author makes a convincing argument for periodic face time as a way to keep our increasingly virtual and disbursed work environments operating smoothly.
Japanese know this intuitively. They thrive on face time and long Japanese work hours manifest their need for collective engagement.
“Dry” Americans, “Wet” Japanese
Years ago I’d often hear Japanese disparagingly refer to Americans as “dry”. In particular, our attitude towards relationships are dry. Cut-and-dry if you will. Americans, they said, don’t abide by the bonds of duty and obligation that characterize Japanese relationships. There’s truth to that. We Americans often shed relationships as quickly as we form them. Japanese, on the other hand, can be ponderously slow and hard to get to know because they are reluctant to form new relationships.
Americans are fast friends. Networks are rapidly built creating virtual bridges strong enough to be used to transport the heaviest of commercial loads. It’s an on-demand system ideally helping both parties accomplish the desired objective. Then when the objective is met, the bridge is re-tasked for another use.
Neither approach is right nor wrong, just culturally specific and important to know how to navigate.
Smooth as a Gravy Sandwich
Japanese companies work well because of their heavy investment in face time. McNulty says that by bringing people together in the same space, “Team members are reminded of their colleagues’ humanity and learn to respect and better understand each other in ways that don’t materialize when they only engage remotely.” That’s very wet, very Japanese.
When you spend time with others you see them for who they are and deal with them differently than if your relationship were virtual. The difference in cultural expectations means that Americans don’t need to rack up the legendary amount of face time that Japanese do. However, as McNulty implies, a little can go a long way.
A Balancing Act
For those who do business in the US and Japan it’s important to understand the relative importance each culture places on face time. In America sharing an after work dinner with a customer or a colleague is becoming increasingly rare. In Japan, that American quick and easy style of bonding is equally hard to find.
I’ve found that reaching across the cultural aisle and doing the unexpected can be transformative and rewarding.