Hofner Saphiere, Dianne and Yuko Kipnis, Shinrai: Building Trusting Relationships with Japanese Colleagues

Reviewed by Dr. George Simons at www.diversophy.com

Language teaching without cultural insight is inherently faulted—like learning the parts of an automobile by reading the manual, and then believing oneself licensed to drive. On the other hand, cross-cultural savvy without some language familiarity severely limits one’s effectiveness. Earning a degree in intercultural or international studies without another language and being able to code experience from a second perspective is unthinkable but all to common.

In the 1960’s Brazilian activist Paolo Freire began to teach people to read and write, not as neutral skill sets, but as political tools to better their lives and livlihood. People learned what they needed to make change happen. “No grita, no mama,” runs the Spanish saying. Babies are born knowing that if they don’t cry, they don’t get fed. Adults, however, usually have to learn that it is important to go after what they want in ways that others can understand and respond to.

When stepping over the threshold of another culture, this is not a straightforward task. Exact grammar and a big vocabulary, desirable as they may be, do not make a person fluent in another language. Fluency is being able to think with the other person as you say what you mean and what you feel, and to do this with enough cultural alertness to build rather than hurt a relationship.

Enter Shinrai, a quick course, not in how to speak Japanese, but about how key Japanese forms of expression can support the critical task of Building Trusting Relationships with Japanese Colleagues, as the subtitle of the CD states. Shinrai is a set of cultural survival skills for people working and negotiating with Japanese.

Not surprisingly, this creative approach comes from the synergy of its two authors, Dianne Hofner Saphiere and Yuko Kipnis, the first a Japanologist and the second a culturally astute language trainer. In less than an hour, they make the listener aware that sensitivity to context is crucial to choosing the attitudes and words that engender a sense of connectedness or family (uchi) with Japanese colleagues.

Shinrai means “trust.” It is what comes about by carefully shaping and sharing one’s intentions and commitments. This challenge starts the moment one is introduced and begins to interact in social situations with Japanese colleagues. Following the CD, the student learns step-by-step the mindset and expressions that build trust, convey careful listening, assist problem solving, and that guide words and actions in moments of conflict and disagreement.

Towards the end, the program comes together in three business case scenarios. These test the user’s ability to think in terms of the expressions and mindsets that they have been exposed to in this short course. The cases powerfully demonstrate how the learnings are put to use.

The authors have taken care to use language appropriate for both men and women, since how one speaks Japanese can differ according to gender. The presentation is simple and understandable. Shinrai can be used by individuals or made part of language training.

You don’t have to read, speak, or teach Japanese to get some mighty “aha’s” from Shinrai. The reviewer does not do any of these, but if asked to work in Japan or with Japanese, would go about language studies and readying the assignment quite differently as a result of the hour spent with this CD.

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