Apologizing in Japan

If you are doing business, then somewhere some issue will definitely crop up and you might have to apologize. Few things to observe in Japan Do not downplay the issue Apologize at the earliest When you apologize – you just apologize – do not try to give an explanation or reason (explanations can be given at a different stage or setting)

If you are doing business, then somewhere some issue will definitely crop up and you might have to apologize. Few things to observe in Japan

  • Do not downplay the issue
  • Apologize at the earliest
  • When you apologize – you just apologize – do not try to give an explanation or reason (explanations can be given at a different stage or setting)
  • Give a solution or steps taken to rectify the problem & then ensure personal monitoring

This (apology) can be a common thing & valid in any market or geography, but this is a very important ritual in Japan & can be a differentiator between you and your competitors business. In the extreme cases of apology, people just bow and do not talk at all –they just listen to the client. One word that time and you could lose the client forever.

Many foreigners (including me) – we are used to give some reason or explain as to how it was not their fault or how it was the circumstances or whatever. Japanese people link the problem to responsibility and as a representative of the company it is you who has to take the responsibility.

On the other hand, in some extreme good cases, this apology can become a secret weapon to negotiate and get your way through.

While apologizing, ideally a personal meeting should be requested instead of an email or phone based apology (offcourse depending on the issue). In that meeting, one can also conclude with the steps taken to avoid re-occurrence of the issue as well as your personal monitoring of the issue.

So in case you plan to enter Japan market do learn the art of apologizing to do long term business in Japan.

Some important sentences /words to remember in this context:

Gomen nasai, taihen moushi wake gozaimasen - This sentence means "Sorry" but also adds a tinge of “Unfortunately” or “It was beyond my effort though I tried my best” kind of meaning. The original context is known to both parties and if we say this sentence then it gets related to that context hence can be used to say if you are late to the meeting or late in delivery of a project or couldn’t be there at a party etc.

Gomen nasai - Sorry

Sumi masen – This also means sorry but has a more “excuse me” kind of meaning to it

While we say the above, key is the intent or the feeling behind it. So do say the same with true intent / feeling and then even if you make mistake while pronouncing the word or say incorrectly, your Japanese colleague /boss/business partner will surely reciprocate.

I hope you do good business and have a long term stay in Japan

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