Training in Japan is different!

Training in Japan is different than in other places. Part of the design of my Words That Change Minds LAB Profile Trainers’ Training is based on having the participants do an application exercise in groups and then they make comments and ask questions after their experience. This allows me to get them to deepen their thinking and prompts me to share experiences that I have had which may be helpful to them.

But in Japan, people are extremely hesitant to speak out in the large group. They are very active during small group exercises. I had been finding the large group sessions frustrating for this reason. Then one of my coaches, Ko, suggested that we ask each group to assign a spokesperson to summarize the findings or results after the small group exercises. It was the miracle cure! Each person stood up, reported back on what their group had done and this provided me with the grist for the mill to add to their knowledge.

We used the LAB Profile model to understand the behaviour of an executive team by looking at their individual and group profile. The participants were able to accurately predict that this executive team was likely to overwhelm their company with huge change initiatives but would neglect to follow through to ensure these changes were implemented. The executive team (a real team that I had worked with) had a high score on the Difference and Options patterns (high need for change and wants many alternatives) as well as high on Internal (decides for self with little or no input from outside factors). Each spokesperson added some more insights that their group had contributed.

The spokesperson role works particularly well in Japan I believe because Japanese culture is quite Procedural in LAB Profile terms. (Procedures people prefer to follow a step by step process that is given to them.) Also since people are very polite and deferential in Japan (LAB Profile combination of Cooperative, Person and External), the role of spokesperson makes it acceptable to speak out in front of one’s peers.)

The Japanese version of my international best-seller Words That Change Minds came out August 10, 2010 here in Tokyo. And for the first week, it was the bestselling book in the leadership section of, beating out even the classics!

Have any of you had experience in adapting your presentations or training programs in different cultures? Please share your experience by adding your comments.

3 thoughts on “Training in Japan is different!

  1. Joan Bird

    Thank you, Shelle!

    I’ve experienced SO many frustrations training in different cultures over the years – like the bunch of Slovak judiciary who were mega high-position/internal. It was soon after the separation from the Czech republic and the government was in a reputation/confidence building phase.

    I spent one whole morning in a three day seminar workshopping (through a translator) one word in a media message because while they wanted to public to let go of all the “corrupt and just out for themselves” beliefs they had about the judiciary, they weren’t comfortable with the proposed line ”we’re here to serve you”. This lot didn’t SERVE anyone, and about a third of them objected in strong terms.

    In the circumstances, it possibly didn’t help that I was foreign, a woman and working through a translator. I got there in the end, but it took time – and sometimes that’s exactly what you need to succeed. Luckily I had three days to build up my credibility! Also, the culture was such that no-one was going to just walk out on me. The stuck with it, warmed up and we worked through it together.

  2. Pauline Duncan-Thrasher

    Fascinating experiences for you with Japanese workshops Shelle. Thank-you for sharing. My own experience was less exotic and I only needed to travel to our South London Community Centre earlier this summer to speak to a mixed age and nationality group of new immigrants about the use of Body Language to make an impression in an interview situation. Because I do not speak Arabic and only a smattering of Spanish with high school French and my audience represented all of those cultures, my use of facial expressions and hand gestures increased.Their responses were warm and involved. Part way through one of the councillors asked if I would mind translations being used. I was happyu and relieved that there were willing translators so at one point there were three different voices echoing my message and my responses to questions in three different languages. Lots of smiling and head bowing and open handed gestures made the experience one of the wamest and most memorable of my speaking career. Guess it’s all about a universal language, n’est ce pas?


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