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Siesta at Work in Japan? Yes!

December 13, 2011

You are in the meeting with a group of Japanese business professionals. As it is an important meeting, they brought their bosses and even their big bosses. While you are passionately presenting your proposal, one of the senior members starts to cross their arms, close their eyes, and face down (or up) a little bit. He seems to be deep in the thoughts, pondering every message you convey. Or he may be meditating himself before making a big decision. Then, you will hear a small but unmistakable sound – zzzzz.

Falling asleep in the meeting is not uncommon in Japan. How come?

Blame #1: English

For non-native English speakers, participating in a meeting in English consumes a lot of energy. It requires very strong concentration, which is hard to sustain for a long period of time. Once it exceeds the limit of your concentration, then the overall discussion starts to slip from your head and you can not follow the conversation any more. In such a state, a heated discussion conducted in an incomprehensible language becomes just a background noise inviting you to a nice and cozy dream.

Blame #2: Unproductive Meetings

So English may be one reason, but it doesn’t explain why people sleeps in the meeting with Japanese only, too. Another reason meeting. Japanese culture values consensus building. The key of consensus building is to communicate the topic to any potential stakeholders well before the decision is made. Therefore, you are invited to a meeting, which may or may not have any impact on your business. As the roles and responsibilities little defined at Japanese companies, you may end up going to meeting after meeting where you don’t know what is expected. How can you fight back drowsiness if you have to sit in a meeting unimportant for you for one hour.

Blame #3: Late Work Hours

One of my Japanese classmates at the business school was infamous of sleeping in the class. one day a professor cold called him, questioning why he was always sleepy. He said he had little sleep in order to finish all the homework for the class. Ironically, the same thing can be said in the office. People are tired and sleepy during the work hours because they work hard over time and weekends. However, if you flip the picture, you could say they have to work over time and weekend because they are not productive during the work hours.

Today’s Lesson:

Sleep well at home, not at work.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. orchid permalink
    March 12, 2012 10:02 am

    i really like this post.
    now i understand why some of our customers fall asleep while me and my translator are doing the presentation :)

    • March 12, 2012 7:14 pm

      Hi Orchid,
      That kind of things happens a lot and I’m ashamed. A remedy is to keep them engaged in conversation and ask their feedback constantly. Or, invite them for a business dinner (with Sake involved of course) and you’ll find them surprisingly awake and energized. Anyway I feel sorry for the poor translator…
      – Shinobu

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