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Can Silence be Eloquent?

The Japanese are known for their periods of silence in business negotiations.

Americans are uncomfortable with silence and feel an internal obligation to fill the silence with words, often making comments that tip their hand.

But do the Japanese really set out to use silence as a tool to gain competitive advantage in negotiations as many think? Not really.

The following excerpt from an article titled “Can Silence Be Eloquent?” on the WIN Advisory web site provides valuable insight into why silence is important in Japanese culture.

Contrast the American’s dislike of silence with the traditional Japanese view of silence. Japanese grow up with proverbs like the bird who doesn’t sing won’t get shot or the mouth is a source of trouble. Japanese children are taught not to talk too much, not to be chatterboxes.

This early indoctrination carries over to Japanese business conduct.

In The Eight Core Values of the Japanese Businessman: Toward an Understanding of Japanese Management, author Yasutaka Sai defines Silence as Eloquence and a core value of the Japanese working environment.

In working situations as in other interpersonal situations, you will be viewed with disfavor if you talk too much. In exactly the same circumstances, a Japanese executive may consider speech unnecessary and an American executive would require a lengthy explanation. The Japanese executive in this situation would believe that reading subtle signs and signals and exercising intuition are more significant than the spoken word. Silence can be considered a sign of respect for the person who has spoken, or the silent Japanese executive may be pondering the next step.  One author claims that Japanese silences are times to be shared, not emptiness that must be filled with words.

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2 Responses to “Can Silence be Eloquent?”

  1. Jerrold Says:

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  2. admin Says:

    Thank you for your comment.

    I’ve spent many years living with many different cultures. I’ve found that there is always something new to learn.

    For Americans, silence is generally one of the most difficult disciplines to learn. We seem to be almost “programmed” to fill a silence with words regardless. That is why silence is such an effective interview technique with us. The interviewer goes silent. The person being interviewed gets uncomfortable because of the silence and starts speaking the first thing that comes to mind. That “first thing” is quite often the thing he or she was concentrating on NOT saying. 🙂

    Thanks.