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How to Speak the Universal Language of Business

Is there a universal language that transcends all cultural differences?

People over the years have argued that art, music, pictures, and psychology speak a universal language.

Some people believe that business is a universal language. After all, everyone wants to make a good deal and everyone wants to do it with good people.

In that spirit, I often hear American business people say, “At the core, business is business and it transcends cultural difference.”

...Except people who went into business with that mentality and saw their approach fail.

The other day, I was talking to a client who told me about his struggles with being seen as “arrogant” to his business partners in Japan.

He’s a totally decent person—a good listener and good conversationalist, and he has a good sense of humor.

“Arrogant” is certainly not the first word that pops into my head. So I understood his confusion at that feedback. But I was also not surprised.

I gave him some clues of what he could try differently, which was based on this observation:

I rarely hear Japanese business people say “business is business.”

What I often hear instead?

“Sincerity and concern for others is universal and that always transcends culture.”

In doing business with Japanese companies, it’s often effective to signal how much you care and how much you are striving to do your best. This is a concrete way to project sincerity.

Just showing “good results” or turning in “good work” after the fact is not enough.

To really speak the “universal language” of business, you need more than a good deal and good people.

You need to know how to communicate in a culturally appropriate way.


Need to figure out how to get through to your Japanese client or partner?

I would love to help you come up with a solution!

Schedule a chat:


Call: +1-858-256-5137

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