Silence Culture in Cross-Culture Corporate Communication: the Japanese Case

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Author: Future Manager Research Center

You may think that silence during a conversation, especially if it is focused on business, is disorienting, as well as it is a negative signal in the development of a business deal. Actually, it has a huge strategic value when approached to some cultures and customs in which implicit and non-verbal communication takes on a central role.

If in some geographical areas, such as North America, empty spaces during corporate communication are associated with a feeling of discomfort or even disinterest; in Japan, on the other hand, the so-called chinmoku 沈黙 (silence) is crucial and full of meaning in communication: it represents a sign of respect towards your own interlocutor.

If during a business meeting the Japanese counterpart you are interacting with does not respond immediately and remains silent for a few minutes, do not worry!

Generally, this attitude denotes that your Japanese partners or colleagues are seriously considering and carefully evaluating what they have just heard.

This is certainly a peculiar custom of many Eastern countries, which is also symptom of great wisdom, empathy and self-control, in contrast to the typical way of communicating of Westerners, that can appear almost aggressive and that can be a type of approach that risks leaving no room for reflection.

Within Japanese corporate realities, executives are often inclined to adopt the practice of silence in a business context with the aim of preserving and maintaining an atmosphere of harmony and balance, especially in cases of aversion or opposition to a certain way of thinking.

When dealing with a Japanese counterpart, it is essential to also know the art of kūki wo yomu 空気を読む (reading the air), in other words, it is the ability to read between the lines.

Consider that usually Japanese people never directly communicate their dissent, which is why it is necessary to codify and interpret their real intentions to be able to establish harmonious and long-lasting relationships with them.

It is certain that there are also cases in which silence could result in the need to stall in order to find the right way to express dissent in a kind and polite way.