Saturday, March 20, 2010

Won't Miss #142 - communicative "insecurity"

Part of my former office job was doing brief telephone lessons with students from all over Japan. In a very "light" year, I spoke to 500 students, but in a "heavy" year, I would speak to closer to 900. I was at that job for 12 years so it's no exaggeration to say that I have spoken to literally thousands of Japanese people in many populated areas. I can add the experience of hundreds of face-to-face conversations I've had and witnessed to the communication experience pool.

One thing that emerges is that there are very concrete differences in behavioral communication patterns in Japanese as compared to English. One of those differences is that Japanese people require much more frequent confirmation that you are listening and understanding them than English speakers. If you are not saying "yes", grunting in acknowledgment, or nodding your head until you develop a cervical spinal disorder, they feel something is amiss. I've had people say 3 or so words and stop speaking to wait for me to say "hai" (yes) and they stop more and more often if I don't do it. I've also been grunted at and "hai'd" (or "yes'd") so much that I don't think the other person could possibly be paying any attention to what I'm saying because they're so busy stuttering out affirmations over my speaking. I've also had people who I've occasionally nodded at and made regular eye contact with during the duration of their telling of a story ask me at regular intervals, "do you understand?" If I'm not saying I understand all of the time, they don't think that I am doing so. I always tell them that I'll tell them if I don't understand, not tell them I do constantly, but this never sticks for long.

Though I understand that Japanese communication styles are different, I will not miss this comparatively constant need for and offering of affirmation which I find disruptive and tiring.