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Question: What Etiquette Should I Follow With Japanese Coworkers?
I’ve recently started working at a new job in Japan, but I’m not really hitting it off with my new coworkers. Is there certain etiquette I should follow, or any tips for forming a positive work relationship?
Whether this is your first job in Japan or your tenth, warming up and breaking the ice with your new coworkers can be a challenge. But it’s a challenge that must be overcome in order to feel comfortable in your new job, both now and in the future as well, assuming you want to stay there long-term.
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While building professional relationships is a two-way street (and some coworkers might take longer than others to open up to a new employee, especially if they’re intimidated by a potential language or cultural barrier), there are a few things you can do to help you fit right in at your new workplace.
1. Respect Your Seniors
First, as a new member at your company or in your workplace, you must get to know the hierarchical ranking of your new colleagues.
No matter what your background is or how much experience you have listed on your resume, you are still just a new employee at first. Stay humble, and get to know who your seniors are! They are the ones leading the team, and you are typically expected to speak to them in a very polite style. If you know Japanese already, make sure to pull out your best keigo when speaking to them. And remember, even if you were able to speak casually to your bosses and seniors in your home country, you may not be able to here. Well, unless you attend a nomikai.
2. Attend Nomikais
A nomikai is an after-work drinking party for coworkers to bond and get to know each other in a more casual and relaxed setting. This is where you can loosen up and show a bit more of your authentic personality. If you want to get along with your new coworkers, make sure to attend the nomikais when invited! For some tips on proper nomikai etiquette, read more here. And if you don’t like drinking, that’s okay! You can still attend and enjoy all the izakaya food and alcohol-free drinks you can stomach.
3. Use Aisatsu
Aisatsu are Japanese greetings, and there are common standard greetings for a variety of scenarios – including greeting coworkers. Make sure to use aisatsu when arriving at the office (such as saying ohayogozaimasu), when passing coworkers (you’ll often hear otsukaresamadesu), and when you’re leaving before others (say osaki ni shitsureishimasu). If you doubt the importance of workplace aisatsu, a small survey showed that using proper greetings significantly helped to build an impression of trust, friendliness, and common sense between coworkers. So remember, a simple konnichiwa can go a long way in the workplace.
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4. Become a Giver
To bond with your coworkers, learn the art of gift-giving.
It’s common for coworkers to give each other small gifts, especially omiyage. If you travel, even for business, it’s considered a bit rude to return to the office without a small souvenir, called omiyage.
There are other instances when you may want to give small gifts too, such as on holidays (think chocolate on Valentine’s Day) or when you’ve received a package of treats from your home country (only if you’d like to share, of course!).
Because gift-giving is such a deeply rooted part of Japanese culture, giving omiyage to coworkers is often well-received and greatly appreciated.
5. Follow Others’ Lead
When in doubt, follow what others are doing. You may be struggling to connect with some of your coworkers, and you shouldn’t feel pressure to completely change who you are just to fit in. However, there may be some unspoken rules or practices that you’re simply unaware of, and following them could help solidify your work relationships.
In Japan, getting along with others often relies on what you do just as much as what you don’t do. In other words, follow others’ cues and habits when possible, and allow yourself to take on the role of an observer and student at first. Sometimes, sitting back, modeling what others are doing, and choosing your actions carefully can be the best way to help coworkers feel comfortable and get to know you at their own pace.
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