encouraging Japanese to attend meetings

This article is part of a series on effective meetings between Japanese and non-Japanese.


There’s not much point to having a meeting if nobody shows up. Or just as bad, if everyone but the key people are there. But today, people have so many meetings on their schedules, they often have to choose from among more than one happening at the same time. Or, it’s a choice between attending another meeting or staying at their desk to attack all the work that’s been piling up while they’ve been at other meetings – and the desk wins out. How can you make sure that people choose to come to your meeting? 

The best approach is a personal invitation. If there’s someone you really want to attend a meeting, in addition to sending them the general invitation that everyone else receives, contact them directly to tell them that you very much would like them to be there. And give as concrete a reason as possible. For example, perhaps they have specific knowledge that you would like them to share: “During this meeting we are going to be discussing the possibility of introducing loyalty cards. I know that you used to work for Jewel Supermarket, which is well-known for its skillful use of the data from loyalty cards. I would appreciate your attending and sharing what relevant lessons we might glean from the Jewel experience.”

Perhaps the topic under discussion is something that will directly affect their department or their work: “This meeting will include discussion of the new tax rules that affect American expatriates living in Japan. Since your department is involved in matters related to the compensation of our American staff, I believe this will be important information for you, so I hope that you will attend.”

The information being covered may be related to a personal interest they have: “At this meeting, there is going to be a report on the Turkish market. I remember your mentioning that you have a special interest in Turkey and that you visited there last year on your vacation. So you may be particularly interested in attending this session.”

Or, they might be an important decision-maker: “During this meeting we will be discussing the merits of the various suppliers under consideration. Since you will have an important role in the supplier selection, I believe that you will want to hear this information as a reference for your decision.”

When someone has been contacted individually and given a specific reason why they, in particular, should attend, the likelihood that they will make time to attend will significantly increase. This is certainly an effective technique for increasing attendance at a meeting. Of course, these kinds of statements don’t have to necessarily be directed only to individuals: They can also be incorporated into the meeting invitation itself if they apply to everyone who is being invited.

However, if this sort of appeal to reason doesn’t work, you can always borrow a trick from American managers, and appeal to a more primal instinct. In other words, bribe them with food! Adding to the invitation “Doughnuts and coffee will be served” or “Since this meeting is immediately after lunch, we’ll be having a special surprise dessert” can make a big difference. This is a particularly useful technique if your meeting promises to be a rather routine or boring one. Yet if even the offer of a tasty treat doesn’t get people to your meeting, perhaps it’s time to think about sending a personal, targeted email instead!

Poor attendance may also be a sign that there is an issue with the content and/or format of the meeting itself. If you consistently have difficulty generating adequate attendance for your meetings, it may be a signal that a meeting is not the best way to achieve your aims. Rethink why you are having the meeting, and how participants might weigh attending your meeting in comparison to the other demands on your time. Do you really need to have a meeting at all? Could your goal be accomplished more effectively some other way, for example over email or chat? Not every meeting necessarily needs to happen. Keep in mind the example of Dropbox, where management unilaterally cancelled all regularly occurring meetings, and employees found that they actually didn’t need many of them.



For more on how to make your cross-cultural meetings effective, get a copy of our free bilingual ebook here.

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