On Language, Perceptions and Being Open: Sheron Torho (Class of 2020) Draws Lessons from Japan Course
Sheron Torho (Class of 2020) came to Darden from Washington D.C. where she worked as a Senior Sales Development Representative at Cvent. She earned her Bachelors of Arts from Amherst College and has kept her goal of helping people and making a difference front and center as she pursues her career. In May, prior to beginning her summer internship in brand management with KFC, Sheron participated in Darden’s Global Immersion Course to Japan. Her key reflections are as follows in her own words:
Before the Darden Worldwide Course, I had a host of opinions about Japan, but I was not sure whether any of them were founded in reality or generalizations based on television or film. Most of my opinions were developed in my youth as I marveled at pop culture references to anime, Harajuku and Japanese schoolgirls. I assumed that Japanese business was innovative and thriving because I knew Japan to provide unique products and services that no other countries offered, which tickled customers’ fantasies and sense of wonder. I also assumed that their economy was fairly strong – although I was aware that Japan’s economic growth had slowed, I questioned whether that growth was any less than world leaders like China or the United States. In terms of social issues, I had no concept of where Japanese society stood.
One of our first days in Tokyo, we met with an expat Japanese translator and culture specialist. This was one of my favorite conversations during the course that left me with snippets about the culture that I would continue to investigate throughout my time in country. Something Alfred Birmbaum highlighted was the implications of Japanese language related to how people interact. Instead of making the individual the focal point in situations and language, Japanese often speak in terms of relationships and organizations. Everyone is thought about not as their own person, but in terms of the roles they play within a family, team or company.
I also related to honne and tatemae, Japanese words describing the contrast between a person’s true feelings and those shown in public. In Japan, employees at lower levels are not expected to give their opinion or even speak out of turn. It is rude to explicitly express concern or frustration, so people strive to remain as silent and pleasant as possible. In the context of my life, I have learned to refrain from revealing all my cards. Only recently have I been working to be more open in my personal life and also extend this to a business setting. During the leadership course at Darden, I learned that showing vulnerability or truth can help build relationships or gain power in a business setting. I do, however, think there is a happy medium between what is traditionally done in Japan and being explicit about how one feels at work. My challenge, moving forward as a business leader, will be learning how to strike that balance.
Overall this course taught me to seek various perspectives when it comes to learning about new cultures and how business functions within those cultures. The primary message that I will take away is from our pre-meditation session with Takafumi Kawakami. He explained to us the difference between actuality and reality. As a business leader, it is important to seek different perspectives and determine how various people may experience or be affected by the same decision. I will always question situations that I have a strong reaction to and think through how my previous experiences influence my perception. I will also try my best to not allow my preconceived notions to impact my interaction with new people or cultures because when you keep an open mind people can surprise you.