When Erin Meyer visited Tokyo with a Japanese colleague shortly after her book, “The Culture Map” was published, she agreed to speak to about 20 Japanese managers. After her presentation, she asked if there were any questions or comments. “No hands went up, so I went to sit down,” she recalls.
But then her Japanese colleague whispered to her that he believed there were some comments. Would it be OK if he tried to solicit some feedback?
Meyer agreed. The colleague made the attempt, but the group remained silent. Then, he made eye contact with someone and asked, “Do you have something to add?”
“To my amazement, she responded, ‘Yes, thank you,’ and asked me a very interesting question. I was dumbfounded,” Meyer says. “How did he know that she had something she wanted to say?”
The process was repeated several times, and more people lent their voices to the discussion. After the session, Meyer asked her colleague how he knew people wanted to ask questions when they were so silent in the beginning. His response? “It has to do with how bright their eyes are.”
“I thought: That’s not something I ever would have learned from my upbringing in Minnesota,” Meyer says.
Meyer says she learned that in Japan, people don’t make as much direct eye contact. So, when they do it means that they want to be called upon. When she returned to her classroom at INSEAD where she teaches executive courses, “I felt both embarrassed and (read more here)