MANY of us learned it from the Japanese who, if they’re inclined to say “no,” would not want to say it directly to your face. Instead, they would play around with confusing, beautiful words that make you think they’ve approved your idea. Sometimes, they would say “hai, hai” to manifest they’ve understood what you’ve said, but not necessarily agreeing to it.
It’s more complicated when you sent the Japanese an email proposal or worse, if done via a private message on social media. If the Japanese don’t like your idea, they would simply keep silent about it and pretend they didn’t receive anything. It’s an easy approach and mutually convenient face-saving device in the hope that you will be lulled into amnesia, sooner or later.
Daniel Pink, in his best-selling opus “When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing,” (2018) appears to support this Japanese way of thinking. “Sometimes the best course of action is…inaction. Yes, that can feel agonizing, but no move can often be the right move. Slumps are normal, they’re also short-lived. Rising out of them is as natural as falling into them.”
I’m not sure about Pink, but I still believe in real, tangible management action that creates success rather than inaction that creates nothing but resentment.
I tested this theory with an international organization, although with 20 member-countries is controlled by Japanese bureaucrats and factotums since time immemorial. The topic is too trivial for anyone to seriously consider, but enough for me to make an experiment that I initiated early this year. As expected, the result was a deafening silence from the Japanese.
I resurrected the experiment after more than seven months. I made another follow-up and complied dutifully with their requirements. I waited for another month. With no apparent reply, I sent them again another message, this time with a belligerent note suggesting I’m ready to elevate the matter to their top management.
Lo and behold! Within two hours, they replied with an apologetic note that was full of self-contradictions. Why not? How can you defend the indefensible? I can’t believe it was written by so-called quality and productivity management professionals. You can imagine me with a devilish face laughing and rolling out loud. I replied with several arguments that demolished their twisted alibis until I played their game — by “killing” them softly with my own silence.
Back to the future. The question remains the same: When is the best time to make a reply to any proposition, assuming that we’re not talking to a Japanese, who would avoid saying “no” for fear of being branded as being rude? As a non-Japanese, I would say “the sooner, the better.” If your answer is in the negative, just the same, be respectful to people.
In the workplace, the boss who delays a decision is doomed to fail. “The longer it takes for a boss to respond to their emails, the less satisfied people are with their leader,” said professor Duncan Watts, former research principal at Microsoft Research and now a faculty member at the University of Pennsylvania. The idea was validated by Watts who conducted a massive email experiment with the help of more than 60,000 people from different countries.
Does this mean that Watt has defeated Pink’s argument that “sometimes the best course of action is…inaction?” Well, not exactly because Pink uses the qualifying word “sometimes.”
How about in dealing with a customer or prospective customer? If you’re selling a product or service, you have to abide by a different rule. Avoid any hard sell. First and foremost, you’ve to establish a relationship built on confidence and trust. That means you don’t simply barge in with a cold call even if your format appears to be the most courteous approach in this planet. There’s no such thing, anyway. But that’s another topic worth considering in my future articles.
What if you’re being asked to help in a worthwhile social project by people who can’t pay you back? I should say, the standards should be equal with people who are willing to pay you with your asking price. To those who are first time followers of this column, this seemed bizarre. To the average person, a regular paying customer should be treated highly than a non-paying customer, even senior citizens who would routinely ask for discounts.
Everyone understands this, but no company would want to make it too explicit. After all, faking customer satisfaction is difficult to do. Therefore, to transform a conventional thinking into a dynamic mindset, organizations must treat its employees extraordinarily well, so they can pay back by giving customers extraordinary attention they deserve.
That’s from Sir Richard Branson of the Virgin Group saying: “Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients.” So, imagine, if you’re a manager and you delay approving a simple employee idea, request, or any proposal, done orally, via email or whatever means.
Would that make you a competent manager in the room? Of course not! The result could make work relationship worse than before. To say the least, managerial indecision, inaction or delay demotivates people. Jewish philosopher Maimonides was right when he said: “The risk of a wrong decision is preferable to the terror of indecision.”
Rey Elbo is a business consultant specializing in human resources and total quality management as a fused interest. Send feedback to email@example.com or via https://reyelbo.consulting.