It's often said that in business, "it's not what you know, it's who you know." Getting to know people depends on the ability to network, including making a good impression at cocktail parties, meals and other such venues. Yet, many business professionals who are confident about their work skills turn into a mass of insecurities when confronted with such social situations. This is particularly true for Japanese, who face not only the language barrier but the fact that business socializing customs are quite different between Japan and other countries. Business social situations can also be a particular challenge for non-Japanese who have spent a long time in Japan, and have adapted themselves to Japanese culture more than we have realized.
Here I will discuss some of the fundamentals of success full socializing in the American business context as a primer for Japanese readers and a refresher for non-Japanese readers.
American communication style.
First, a few words about American communication style in general. Americans expect others to engage in self-disclosure, self-expression and an exchange of opinions. This means that it's important to take an active role in conversations by speaking up. Unlike the Japanese who communicate things through subtle facial expressions and tone of voice, for Americans, if it's not clearly set out in words, it won't get across. Americans tend to feel that not trying to talk means you are uninterested in the other person or you're not making an effort. Don't be hesitant to introduce yourself first or to start a conversation. And during the conversation, be sure to say your share. Many Japanese tend to hold back in conversations in English because they are afraid of making a mistake. However, looking at Japanese conversations with Americans, more problems occur when something that should have been said wasn't, rather than something said incorrectly caused a problem. In other words, it's better to try and talk than to say nothing at all, which is sure to be perceived negatively.