When communicating with foreigners, many people in Japan worry that they won’t be able to speak English well and wish they had a better command of the language.
However, how many people are aware of the fact that since there are people who can get along well with foreigners even though there are some problems with their English ability, there must also be people who cause misunderstandings and mistrust in others even though they speak English well?
Interactions with people from foreign countries are nothing more or less than a series of intercultural experiences. Intercultural experiences are defined as experiences to deepen one’s understanding by having conversations with people who use different communication styles.
Even if you can speak English, if you don’t understand the other person’s communication style, there can be many unexpected pitfalls.
Japanese people have a uniquely Japanese communication style. That style is underpinned by and has arisen from values, conventional wisdom, and sometimes education that have been amassed over many years.
Of course, people from other countries, such as those in Asia and the West, also have communication styles that are based on the areas’ cultures and histories.
In a multicultural environment, it is dangerous to rely only on the appearance of things the other person does and says to make judgments. It’s like navigating a ship while only looking at the part of an iceberg that is above the water.
It is necessary to deepen your understanding of what is under the surface, “the reasons and background for the person acting and talking that way,” and to have techniques for adjusting your actions and way of speaking while responding to the person.
Of course, it goes without saying that it is not a one-way street, and it is necessary for both parties to make an effort.
Westerners’ communication style is to match one’s facial expression with what’s in one’s heart. In countries which are made up of immigrants, if you don’t use your face to express what you’re thinking to the person you talk to, it will cause misunderstandings.
On the other hand, in Japan, it has traditionally been thought that controlling one’s facial expressions and staying in control is a good thing. For this reason, one does not necessarily have to match one’s facial expressions with what is in one’s heart.
They say that it’s been changing recently, but even now, most Japanese people’s facial expressions are flat compared with most foreigners.
This is why foreigners think Japanese people’s facial expressions are strange when they are talking.
The thing that Japanese people always have to keep in mind when they are overseas is that when something bad happens to a foreigner, they should have a serious facial expression, and when the person is happy, they should wear a pleased expressions.
This is more difficult than one might think for Japanese people. Bitter smiles and embarrassed grins are especially likely to cause misunderstandings.
If foreigners understood that Japanese people have that habit, they wouldn’t misunderstand that their Japanese friends are insincere.