An Interview with Etiquette Expert Hiroko Nishide
I was delighted to be introduced to Hiroko Nishide through a former team member. Hiroko is known in Japan as an etiquette expert. She has featured widely in Japanese media and shares her expertise in corporate and public workshops on business manners, table manners, and fashion manners.
Looking at Hiroko’s website, I saw her emphasis on “success and happiness,” which are two words that I specify in my mission: To help 2020 people create communication habits for success and happiness in global business by 2020.
So it was wonderful to have the opportunity to interview Hiroko and learn more about the similarities in our thinking. I’m grateful that she so openly shared stories about her communication successes and struggles. I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I enjoyed working on it!
What sort of communicator do you want to be?
I want to be a communicator who makes the person I’m communicating with happy. And I want to be happy too. People talk a lot about “communication,” but Japanese people especially tend to focus on the skills and techniques. Techniques alone are not communication in the real sense. The person you’re communicating with doesn’t necessarily feel comfortable when you just do techniques.
My area of expertise is etiquette. Etiquette means communicating in a way that’s positive for both parties, with the appropriate facial expressions and attitude. I want a positive outcome for both parties and that’s why I want to be a communicator who makes others happy as well as being happy myself.
When people focus on skills and techniques, they often forget about their facial expression or body language. But if we truly think that we want to convey our message to the other person, we naturally have an appropriate facial expression and body language.
Japanese people become very stiff when they focus on skills and don’t communicate naturally. This is “mottainai” (a waste), as you talk about in your book.
What is one communication success that you can share with us?
This happened recently. One of my team members turned 60 and had some health concerns, so she wanted to give up work. This person was important for the company and for me personally, so I wanted her to stay. She didn’t say she wanted to give up, but that she was giving up. It was definite.
It would have been very easy for me to be upset or angry about this. Humans easily have negative emotions. I used to be that way. But that would have just been negative for both parties. It was important to empathize. She had turned 60 and work had become difficult.
So first I empathized and then I was also honest about my feelings. I said it would be difficult for me if she left. I said, as a sort of cushion, “if possible” that I would like her to continue, but it didn’t have to be coming to work every day. I said I’d be very happy if she continued to work with me.
She thanked me for understanding her situation and apologized for thinking only of herself when saying she was going to leave. She said thank you and that she’d like to work part-time if that was alright with me.
I was delighted. I’d thought she was going to leave completely. This is what I mean when I talk about communication that’s positive for both parties. Even if you receive an initial message that’s negative for you, you can turn it around to be positive for both parties. This episode reminded me how important this is.
So it’s about empathizing, being honest, and looking for a positive outcome together.
What is one communication failure that you can share with us?
In the past, a person had a different opinion from me. I didn’t even attempt to understand him or his feelings. This had a bad effect on our relationship and ultimately led to legal action.
It started as something very small. I really don’t like it when people lie. I felt he had lied and put pressure on him. He kept lying and changing what he was saying. I didn’t attempt to understand his feelings. When it came to court, the ruling was that he hadn’t done anything wrong. I should have empathized, so that he didn’t feel the need to keep lying.
What is most challenging for you in communication right now?
I don’t feel like I have a challenge in communication right now. I’ve experienced and learned a lot. I made lots of mistakes to get here. It’s important not to think of mistakes as negative. They’re positive.
We should always have an open heart. Japanese greetings are called aisatsu (挨拶). The first character, “ai,” is about opening the heart. So for example, when we say Hajimemashite (Nice to meet you), Konnichi wa (Hello), or Ohayo (Good morning), we should open our hearts. But people simply think we say hajimemashite the first time we meet someone and ohayo because it’s the morning. It’s just form and not substance.
We should be conscious of the real meaning of greetings when we communicate with people. I now feel I can communicate well because I’ve practiced doing this.
What communication skill, resource, or advice would you offer to our readers?
If you feel that you’re not good at communicating or are scared, it’s important to have courage. This is about opening your heart, which I just mentioned. Many people don’t open their own heart, but expect others to. So we have to do it first.
If we’re courageous and take the first step to open our heart, it has positive results. I’ve experienced this myself. Please be courageous, and take that first step!
What else do you want to tell us about?
I focus on communication as a part of etiquette and creating happiness for both parties. Last year, in Japan, it became a requirement for corporations to check stress levels. Lots of people feel stressed.
In an effort to help create work environments with less stress, I’ve developed “Manners Rythmique.” This is based on music therapy and eurhythmics (known in Japan as “ritomikku,” this is a learning method developed in the early 20th century by Swiss musician and educator Émile Jaques-Dalcroze to teach rhythm, structure, and musical expression using movement). Eurhythmics helps people develop their ability to communicate. It helps concentration and cooperation. Music therapy helps people to feel better. So I’ve developed a method to use these for better communication. It’s really fun. I think communication should be fun. I’ll be producing a video, which I hope people will enjoy.