Graphic of two people having a discussion while roots grow in a plant pot between them

Conflict Management

Conflicts in the workplace are inevitable. But they can lead to positive outcomes if they’re managed well. Check out this online course for a two-step process that can help you manage conflict successfully.

Meetings are the perfect time to get everyone together, spitball ideas, get feedback, make decisions, and delegate tasks… right? Well, not necessarily. Not in Japan, anyway.

Foreigner staff working in corporate Japan may be surprised to find that by the time a meeting rolls around, there often aren’t any big surprises or tough discussions happening. It’s almost as if everything has already been discussed and decided.

That’s because your colleagues have been busy with nemawashi.

Next Article

Unlock the Mysteries of Japanese Work Culture

Japanese work culture can feel like a mystery from the outside looking in. But if you learn the unspoken rules, a world of opportunity will open.
An image of a Western man standing in an elevator full of Japanese salarymen.

What is nemawashi?

Originally a gardening term describing digging around preexisting roots as preparation for new crops, a more accurate translation for the modern meaning would be “building the foundation.”

Nemawashi is all about laying the groundwork to prepare for a change—and it’s massively important in Japanese work culture.

In the West, throwing ideas around during a meeting is common, but in Japan, catching colleagues by surprise is a surefire way to create resistance. Getting the right people on board early on ensures that you’ll have a higher chance of seeing your proposals implemented.

Conflict Management

Conflicts in the workplace are inevitable. But they can lead to positive outcomes if they’re managed well. Check out this online course for a two-step process that can help you manage conflict successfully.

Clearly, there’s some nuance here. Westerners sometimes view elements of Japanese culture with mythological awe—but it’s not always so complicated. Insights staff sat down with GLOBIS University faculty member Tadahiro Wakasugi to get a better understanding of how nemawashi works from a Japanese perspective.

Next Article

Why a Work-and-Life Balance Matters for Health and Happiness

A work and life balance needs to evenly split for the sake of mental health at work and when we’re off the clock.
The Importance of Work Life Balance Thumbnail

Insights staff: What is your definition of nemawashi? How would you describe it to someone who has never heard the term?

Wakasugi: Nemawashi is a form of preparation for an important meeting by consulting with key stakeholders in advance. The idea is that if you can improve your proposal and build support ahead of time, you’ll get approval in that official meeting enabling you to push the project in the direction you want it to go.

Insights staff: Does nemawashi typically occur between colleagues who are higher or lower than yourself on the corporate totem pole?

Wakasugi: It’s an effective strategy for anyone, on higher or lower levels. In an official meeting, it’s common for some people to ask if you’ve checked with your boss, or if you’ve considered potential operational issues.

If you anticipate those sorts of questions will come up, you may want to talk to anyone involved in the project. That’s how you can decide who to approach for a nemawashi.

Insights staff: Is nemawashi something that’s taught, or is it more of a natural occurrence in Japan?

Wakasugi: I think it’s partly embedded in Japanese culture—not wanting to bother others.

If you’re having an important meeting, you don’t want to upset anybody, especially more influential people, like your bosses or other important stakeholders. So, to avoid blindsiding anybody, you can have this private conversation in advance to clear everything with them upfront.

Insights staff: How would you advise a foreign colleague to implement nemawashi properly in the Japanese workplace?

Wakasugi: First, I’d suggest making a list of everyone that you’ll need to get involved.

Then, separate those people into two groups: those who you know will support you, and those who will disagree with you.

When you have a moment, talk to whoever you’re sure will support you aside and try to get feedback. This will allow you to get on the same page and reaffirm your game plan for the official meeting.

It’s a good idea to ask them about the parts of your proposal others might be opposed to and discuss potential solutions for addressing their concerns.

Normally, nemawashi involves approaching those who are likely to oppose your proposal. However, in some cases, I wouldn’t advise speaking with them before the official meeting. If they tell you upfront that they disagree with your plans, it will kill your chances of getting approval down the line.

That person will say, ‘Hey, I told you beforehand I don’t like his idea,’ then suddenly you’re in a very awkward position, right? So, it might be best to wait and handle any dissenting opinions during the official meeting.

In Japanese corporate culture, skilled middle managers do well in this nuanced art of nemawashi. They expertly balance the need to build agreement in advance while identifying the right timing for discussions.

Insights staff: How does nemawashi help facilitate consensus-building among team members?

Wakasugi: Think of it as a way to build relationships in an organization.

Nemawashi is a sign of respect, especially towards the higher-ups of your company. It’s showing them that, ‘Hey, I thought about you and your opinions beforehand.’

You may have this 20-minute conversation that ends up building a relationship that can last for 20 or 30 years. These small things really add up over time, especially when you’re working in Japan.

This relationship can really boost your ability to get things done.

Insights staff: Have you seen digital communication like Slack and Zoom change how nemawashi works?

Tadahiro Wakasugi: Absolutely, even CC’ing colleagues on an email can be a form of nemawashi. It’s a signal that you thought of them and wanted to share information in advance, right? That way it encourages collaboration and makes it easier for them to agree to a submitted proposal because you have already looped them into the conversation.

Nemawashi can be something as subtle as a CC or a Slack DM. It’s not necessarily some sacred event.

It’s time to demystify Japanese corporate culture.

In the social protocol and consensus-driven atmosphere of corporate Japan, nemawashi is crucial in keeping operations moving as smoothly as possible. Like transplanting a new sprout so it can thrive, nurturing your business relationships through thoughtful, behind-the-scenes conversation will build the foundation for successful projects down the road.

It doesn’t have to be anything fancy either. Modern times have simplified the process. Something as quick and painless as a Slack DM can be a tactical ace in the hole, and the difference between approval and rejection in your next big meeting.

Get monthly Insights

Sign up for our newsletter! Privacy Policy