Want to Improve Intercultural Communication? Just Pick A Number

Nothing seems to bother H more than me getting angry.  He’s not used to it.  It was part of my DNA growing up. And it was not part of his.

Maybe it was the way I got what I wanted, but it doesn’t work here in Japan.[ I have good reason to believe it doesn’t work other places either, but that’s another story.]

I’ve learned to reign my anger in, especially after living with H for 22 years.

Sometimes I count to ten if I can think clearly enough, but sometimes my anger does slip out.  And then I have to spend a lot of time apologizing once he is wiling to talk with me again.

We also use numbers in another way to make sure our communication is smooth.

Many non-Japanese, non-Asians for that matter,  get upset that people can not say clearly yes or no.  It can take a very long time to decide on a restaurant for dinner, which movie to see, which business strategy to follow, which person to hire. People here don’t easily say yes or no.

H and I put everything on a scale.  We don’t ask each other yes or no.  We look for degrees of yes or no, agreement or disagreement.

On a scale of 1 to 10 [10 being the highest], is this something you want to do?

On a scale of 1 to 10, is this an artist you want to add to our gallery?

On a scale of 1 to 10, do you want to meet C for dinner?

We both choose numbers.

When the other person answers, we have a clear idea of where they stand and they know where we stand as well.

There is usually not too much of a difference between us.  If we’re both around 8, we usually go with that choice.  If we’re both around 3 or 4, we just forget about that choice.

If one is 9 and the other is 2, it’s time for a discussion.  And it’s a fun discussion. One where we try to find out why the other person sees things so differently.  Sometimes we change our minds in these discussions.

We learn about why the person’s view is so different.  And most importantly, we learn more about each other. Yes, even after 22 years there is more to learn.

Next time, you want to know someone’s opinion, don’t ask for a yes or no.  Ask them to pick a number from 1-10.  You’ll avoid frustration.  There won’t be a conflict.

You’ll get an answer that will lead you to a solution and to greater understanding and appreciation.

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  1. What a great idea! I’m going to try this with my husband.