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A Japanese Phrase Is The Secret To Winning Office Politics And Getting People To Agree With Your Ideas

Photo: Jacob Lund / Shutterstock
group of co-workers talking around computer

Everyone wants to get ahead at work. Many of the ways people typically go about doing that are aggressive and contentious.

One business strategist argued that the actual best way to do this is to find a little bit of peace and cooperation in the office.

A single Japanese phrase can solve all of your office politics problems: Nemawashi

Julian Cole shares strategy advice with his followers on TikTok. He recently shared the Japanese phrase that is the secret to everyone agreeing with you, which is its own unique strategy.

“You want to know the secret to winning office politics?” he asked. “It’s nemawashi.”

   

   

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“Nemawashi is a Japanese term for how they approach corporate culture, which is hallways over boardrooms,” Cole said. 

“The whole idea is you should never be presenting a new idea for the first time in a meeting room,” he explained. “So what you really want to be doing is having all those meetings in hallways beforehand, getting everyone’s approval of the idea before you go and present it in the meeting.”

According to the Asia Media Centre, “The literal translation of the term is ‘to work around the roots’ and relates back to the world of Japanese gardening: when transplanting trees, one method is to uncover the roots with care, giving each part the attention it needs to survive and flourish when it’s moved.”

The Centre explained that there is no direct English comparison, but some things do come close. “It is often compared to the Western ideas of ‘consensus building’ or testing the waters before moving ahead — although these aren’t quite direct parallels.” 

   

   

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Basically, nemawashi means presenting an idea to your co-workers before the stakes are so high that it is make or break. It is getting them to agree with you in smaller groups before that big presentation.

“This is the secret to winning in the corporate environment,” Cole said.

Toyota is a famous example of a company that uses nemawashi.

One company we are all familiar with that uses the concept of nemawashi in its day-to-day functions is car manufacturer Toyota. Toyota is headquartered in Japan.

“Toyota uses nemawashi in its production planning with its employees,” Forbes said.

“They spend more than double the time eliciting employee feedback than their American counterparts. As a result, they dramatically reduce implementation mistakes, often associated with a short collaboration cycle during production.”

Cole’s fellow TikTokers were split on the effects of nemawashi.

Those who commented on Cole’s video had differing opinions on how effective nemawashi really is. 

   

   

“Yes, this! So effective!!! I used to do this in corporate all the time,” one person said. “I thought this was common practice,” another person said. “The last thing you want is to have your idea challenged in front of [the] whole group when presenting.”

Still, others felt that it was a bad idea. “Yes, go ask permission before sharing new ideas,” someone said sarcastically. “Work culture is so positive.”

“Yeah, I had someone take my idea and [call] it their own,” another person added.

Regardless of one’s personal opinions about nemawashi, there’s no question that we could all benefit from more collaboration and communication. That’s what nemawashi is all about. Its purpose is to bring workers together as a team instead of making everyone feel like separate, individual units.

As Forbes pointed out, “The most excellent resource in your business is your employees.” It’s important to make sure each one of those employees’ voices are heard and allowed to contribute. When everyone is a part of the decision-making process, nemawashi will be achieved.

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Mary-Faith Martinez is a writer for YourTango who covers entertainment, news and human interest topics.