Homegoroshi – Japanese don’t always like positive feedback
As part of my work, I often teach seminars to Japanese who are managing non-Japanese subordinates about feedback techniques. One of the things I always emphasize in such seminars is the importance of giving positive feedback. In many cultures outside
I was quite surprised when I started working with Japanese to discover that positive feedback was not the universally-appreciated thing that I had thought it was. The first thing that I noticed was Japanese managers do not give a lot of positive feedback. This was certainly the case with my managers at the Japanese bank that I worked at, and asking around I discovered that Japanese managers who rarely give praise seem to be a common phenomenon.
Trying to understand this, I learned that Japanese tend to not want to praise things that they think are not perfect and still need work — and of course for perfectionist Japanese, there isn’t anything that can’t be improved further. Also, I discovered that many Japanese are afraid that if they praise a subordinate, it will go to their head and they will stop working so hard.
These, however, don’t completely explain the reluctance of Japanese to give positive feedback. There is one more element that I only began to understand when I began to have Japanese subordinates myself. That’s the fact that many Japanese are quite uncomfortable getting positive feedback, and may actively brush it off or resist it. For example, take my Japanese subordinate who every time I told her she had done a good job on something, replied “Oh no, there are so many things I could have done better.” This might be considered a polite and modest response in
I later learned that in
Given this negative meaning of compliments, it makes sense that Japanese might feel uncomfortable getting them. It can also happen that a compliment meant sincerely might be taken by a sensitive Japanese person as being negative (as happened with me and my subordinate).
For Japanese who are working with people from other countries, it’s important to realize that this negative usage of compliments is not something that exists outside of
This article originally appeared in Global Manager Magazine
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