The way of dealing with people in business situations is not just different in Japan, it is diametrically opposite to what you would expect abroad.
Foreign employees and managers newly transferred to a Japanese branch are too often taken aback by the way Japanese workers might act and react in a work environment. Here are some typical situations which might disconcert you when attending a meeting in a very traditional business setting.
In Japan, if you are on time you are late as indeed Japanese people will most certainly turn up about 10 minutes early to any appointment. It is considered common courtesy and your colleagues are guaranteed the meeting will start on time. This imperative also extends to the private sphere as even when meeting with friends one will ensure their acquaintances will not have to wait.
Starting a meeting
While Westerners will first dive into some small talk at the beginning of a meeting, Japanese people tend to get straight into business. Icebreaking talks in the West seem primordial to set everyone in an interactive mood and get people to warm up to each other. However, in Japan it seems it is considered a waste of time and people do not feel particularly comfortable discussing topics that are out of the agenda and for which they would need to be spontaneous and give impromptu answers.
Elaborating an argument
In Western countries, it is very natural or even fundamental to elaborate your points so as to make yourself understood by others and make your arguments more compelling. Indeed, it belongs to the speaker to make themselves understood. In Japan, it is quite the opposite. The Japanese language is meant to be concise and people tend to go straight to the point with their ideas. Thus, they should abstain from getting into long monologues and a manager might get impatient and frustrated if you break into detailed explanations even though it is in the audience’s benefit.
A major reason why Japanese people might have trouble following a business meeting in English is due to the numerous digressions Westerners indulge themselves in sporadically in the middle of a meeting. A lot of the salarymen and salarywomen I have met admitted they get frequently lost and confused when their foreign colleagues diverge into discussions that are not part of the agenda. They find it very unsettling that their foreign coworkers would suddenly move away from the initial topic and keep on building on it. Thus, Japanese people will strive to stick to the topics at hand and will ensure they do not cut off others when they are speaking. Jumping in a discussion when someone is in the middle of developing an argument is perceived as disruptive and disrespectful.
However, things are changing in Japan especially in big organisations. Although all those rules might still apply in some small traditional companies, big companies are now more open to a more Western style of working maybe as a way to catch up with foreign competitors.