There is a game we like to play with my son. We choose two random, unrelated items (like a ball and a chair) and together, we try to find some connection between them – something that they may have in common. We make up funny stories about those objects, where we put them in most adventurous and unexpected situations and somehow, our stories end up with these seemingly unrelated items being closer than one would initially think.

Earlier this summer, the Bratislava office team had an opportunity to follow a half-day Intercultural Business Seminar focused on “Working and communicating with Japanese colleagues”. The training organized by Japan Consulting Office (JCO) based in Brussels was led by JCO’s founder Mr. Olivier van Beneden in the premises of YEU Bratislava office.

Perception of culture

Olivier opened his lecture with an explanation on general perception of a culture as such, about how people commonly misjudge different culture based on its “visible” manifestation (behaviours, traditions) and drove our attention to the invisible signs of a certain culture (values, beliefs, assumptions) that are mostly overlooked in mutual communication. He followed with a brief introduction of facts about Japan: its geography, history, religion and education system and explained how these facts can all be traced in everyday life and behaviour of Japanese people.

The next part of the seminar was devoted to key concepts of Japanese culture, business culture, communication, and business etiquette. Olivier gave us some valuable tips and tricks on dealing with Japanese business people via e-mail and on the phone, on making presentations and attending meetings with Japanese customers and pointed out mistakes we may do when communicating with them. It was all presented in a smart and catchy manner, as a mixture of roleplays, dialogues and open discussion.

Surprisingly close

As we were uncovering the different layers of what “being Japanese” means, we found out that in some ways, Slovak culture is actually not that distant. Especially when it came to the comparison of West-European (i.e. Belgian) and Japanese education systems and how those systems influence our behaviour in professional life, we surprisingly found ourselves somewhere on the border of both. Traditional Slovak education system is based on strong teacher-student hierarchy, authority on the teacher’s side and acceptance of information on the side of a student – the features that are also typical for Japanese style of education. On the other hand, there is a tendency to bring the Slovak system closer to the western European model via encouraging students towards interaction, questioning and discussing with the teacher on particular subjects. Most of us working in the Bratislava office have been at least partially exposed to both education styles throughout our studies and have gained something from both approaches when preparing for our working life. I guess it is a nice asset that may help us to adapt and to understand the business culture differences when dealing with one and the other: our Belgian and Japanese colleagues.

To sum up the training with Olivier in one sentence, I would say that we basically moved from answering the question “How different are we?” to “What else do we have in common?” which was amusing and unexpected at the same time.

Yes. Finding similarities may be challenging sometimes, but for (not only) everyday interaction it is much more helpful than looking at what divides us from one another. In the end, it is also pretty adventurous and fun to look for what we have in common! Well, just like in the game we play with my son…