Wa, Guanxi, and Inhwa: Managerial Principles in Japan, China, and Korea

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Wa, Guanxi, and Inhwa: Managerial Principles in Japan, China, and Korea

Article Summary

We need to broaden our cultural horizons to embrace the full diversity of the world’s people.

The managerial principles in Japan, China, and Korea may share some features, but differ in others. Each society has its separate, distinctive philosophy that guides business managers. A specific behavior appropriate to the setting is required and will be helpful in attaining success in dealings with managers from those countries.

WA

In Japan, business relations operate within the context of wa, which stresses group harmony and social cohesion. Wa refers to the value the Japanese place on group loyalty and consensus. It is the existence of mutual cooperation so a group’s members can devote their total energies to attaining group goals. Member’s personal goal is discouraged. Individual members profit only after the group has profited from their activities. Wa takes place within a group context. Japanese seldom interact with one another or with foreigners as individuals. That is why most activities in Japan occur within a group. Specific position is less important than group membership. Wa demands that member of a group, whether a work team, a corporation, or a nation, cooperate with and trust each other. Japanese usually insist that all business dealings take place among friends. Proper introductions are so important when business relationships are initiated. The establishment of close friendships with coworkers is also necessary, because wa demands that members of a group achieve total agreement through consensus. The willingness to subordinate the truth to group harmony is illustrated in the term makoto, which is equivalent to English word “sincerity”. Wa also involves a specific time dimension. The group’s survival and eventual success are keyed to a long-term perspective. Japanese view contracts as personal agreements that should be changed when conditions change. Social relationships in Japan may be formed by a Mediator, few business contracts proceed smoothly unless proper introductions have been made by a third party who is respected by both parties. Entertaining is seldom a waste of time among the Japanese. It is during a meal or drinking session that personal relations are established and wa-threatening discussions can take place. Numerous suppers and bar hopping excursions to allow wa to develop and be sustained.

GUANXI

Guanxi is one of the major dynamics in Chinese society, and the special relationships two persons have with each other. It can be best translated as friendship with overtones of unlimited exchange of favors. This also pertains to the assumption of full commitment to each other. Guanxi bonds two persons through the exchange of favors rather than trough sentiments. Guanxi has no group connotation; the relationship is total and personal. The individualistic aspect of Guanxi allows Chinese workers to easily change employment. Guanxi ties have to be continuously reinforced. The individualistic component of Guanxi allows for rapid changes in relations. This principle links two persons, often of unequal ranks, in such a way that the weaker partner can call for special favors for which he does not have to equally reciprocate. During negotiations, Chinese officials expect that the (foreign) party will cede certain points because the latter is so much stronger and wealthier. Because of Guanxi, the only people who can get licenses are those with good connections and with ties or close friends. This results to a practical consequence of Guanxi personal loyalties are often more important than organizational affiliation or legal standards. The development of one’s own Guanxi relations is preferable, because these informal affiliations are more important than more formal ones. Export/import matters involve a relatively small numbers of persons, and a small group of Chinese officials make all major decisions. The...
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