Updated: May 1, 2020
When you had a conversation with someone but you felt like you did not understand each other, what did you do to solve it?
Years ago, I had an opportunity to visit some Japanese companies in France and to talk to both Japanese and French employees in those companies.
One day, I visited one of the companies and met a Japanese manager.
I asked him what the biggest difference between the Japanese and French management style was. He told me that the Japanese management style was a “bottom-up style*” but the French one was a “top-down style*”. He explained that Japanese managers were willing to go to a factory to see what was happening there and to talk to people who worked there. They tried to get some information from workers to improve the situation and/or solve issues. On the other hand, he continued, French managers didn’t go to the factory but rather stayed in their offices. He added that he felt French managers seemed to believe that they knew better than workers and could find solutions by themselves.
I thought it was an interesting insight.
Next, I met a French manager who worked in the same company. So I asked him the same question.
Can you guess what the answer was?
He said the French management style was a “bottom-up” but the Japanese one was a “top-down”.
What!?!? They are working in the same company. They are seeing each other every day.
I asked him why.
He told me the French style was “bottom-up” because French managers usually left their office doors open so that anyone could come to discuss any issue or topic. However, the Japanese style was “top-down” because Japanese managers got together in one room and discussed behind a closed door.
A lesson I learned from this experience was that although common phrases such as “bottom-up management style” and “top-down management style” were used, sometimes people define those phrases differently as if they are speaking different languages!
And to make it more complicated, people expect everyone else shares the same definition without questioning!!
So they use words and phrases without explaining or asking definitions!!!
No wonder you a had hard time understanding each other.
Please avoid speaking different languages! It is important to share a definition of the words and phrases and try to speak the same language, so you can understand each other.
*Bottom-up management style and Top-down management styles: https://www.tuw.edu/business/top-down-bottom-up-management/
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