【Column】"Intercultural communication: Trust or Intimacy first?"


In terms of interpersonal relationship in intercultural communication context, there are two key words, which are "Trust-gaining" and "Intimacy-build up". Intimacy between you and opponent is based on similarity, which are where was born and raised, graduated school, family structure, hobby, and so on.

On the one hand, at Japanese interpersonal relationship, people in general focus on “Intimacy build-up” at first. For most of Japanese company, intimacy can gradually be built up through company's events like new year party, year end party, gulf play on holidays, trip. Although tt is a traditional custom that they create business opportunities through informal interpersonal relationship, it is one of custom, which is changing these days.

On the other hand, at Western business, people prioritize trust-gaining first in order to build interpersonal relationship. If people invite their colleagues, partners to home party before their "Trust-gaining" with them, these activities might be called as "Apple polishing" activity.

Segmentation and growth stage of rich


Reliance, which people believe without any doubt, comes after many efforts of "Trust-gaining". In business, "Trust-gaining" must be prioritized in reality to retain interpersonal relationship.

As an example of intercultural gap in interpersonal communication, experience that my German friend during MBA came to Japan and worked with Japanese clients for merging financial process is interesting. As a financial consultant, he visited clients in first day, and was invited to “Karaoke” same day. He was surprised with this invitation though, was accompanied by clients, and had a fun by singing a song at “Karaoke”. Next day, clients are very participative and cooperative with what he does, and he spent with client in Japan for 3monthes without any trouble. I just told him that in Japan intimacy instead of trust very often comes first to build relationship, then he replied "Yes, it is easy" with a big smile.

Actually in comparison with their western context that they should acquire client's trust in day 1, a way of building intimacy may seem to be easier to build relationship.

At ACCJ (American Chamber of Commerce in Japan), Non Profit Organization, which I joined, there are many "Nomi-nication" parties by intimacy building through drinking, named after words between "Nomi" in Japanese meaning drink and communication. These parties show that some of foreigners living in Japan practiced Japanese way of building intimacy first at party event.

Regardless of Japanese and Western way of business, I concluded that, as a matter of fact, we finally need to build trust to develop interpersonal relationship.