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カテゴリーのアイコン Work Life in Japan
How to handle annoying coworkers in Japan
May 09, 2024
6 min read
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Congratulations! You have now accomplished your dream of working in Japan. Unfortunately, your job just so happens to include not-so-ideal coworkers that you have to put up with. This issue is something that most foreign workers in Japan might experience at least once within their career, so if this just so happens to be you, how should you approach this issue? Through this article, we’ll provide useful tips on dealing with annoying coworkers in your Japanese workplace.

Stay Vigilant

First and foremost, when you realize that you are not on the friendliest terms with a coworker, ensure you do not let their behavior influence your work. Prioritize delivering the best performance on your end, adhere to Japanese work etiquette, and be respectful towards everyone (including your coworker who is giving you a hard time at work). Have proper manners, and use the appropriate greetings and honorific language. When it comes to handling a toxic coworker, the one thing you must prevent them from doing is finding any legitimate reasons in your work performance to destroy your reputation or your work relationships with everyone else in your workplace.

Pay close attention to the behavior of your coworkers. Within a Japanese work environment, “空気を読む” (kuuki wo yomu) or basically to ‘read the room’ is one important principle that encourages you to understand the unspoken rules in your workplace. Yes, that means if most of your colleagues are going to drink together with your boss after work, you should join them if possible. You’re more than welcome to consume non-alcoholic drinks as long as you show up with your colleagues to a “飲み会“ (nomikai) you’re invited to.

Take this as an opportunity to get to know your other coworkers better, otherwise they might get the impression that you’re not a good team player. However, this depends on the customs of your workplace. If you notice most of your colleagues not adhering to the "nomikai" culture, it’s safe to assume that it’s not a relevant determinant of a good team player in your workplace. Adopting the behavior of your other colleagues will ensure that you will have people siding with you in the case of an escalated conflict, so take good steps on your end to show your best behavior at work.

Communication Is Key

Miscommunication is one of the most common problems that might jeopardize your relationship with your coworker. Some possible explanations for their hostile conduct could be that they misinterpreted a task you intended to complete, that you don't react appropriately to specific demands, or that your approach to teamwork in an assignment is just different from what your colleague is used to. Japan’s work environment is more team-based than individual-based, so effective communication is necessary to prevent conflict and misunderstandings in the future.

So another way of de-escalating the issue of a hostile coworker relationship, especially when you’re working in the same team, is to effectively communicate about any tasks you will be handling with or from this coworker. Pay close attention to the instructions your coworker gives you without interrupting them, and note down which tasks you will be handling directly. If necessary, reiterate the instruction of your task to your coworkers for them to better grasp your understanding of your assignments, thus avoiding any miscommunications behind your work.

“報連相” (hou-ren-sou) is another important work principle that you must remember to get a grasp of the unspoken rules within the Japanese work culture. It is an abbreviation of the words “報告(houkoku), “連絡” *(renraku), and *“相談” (soudan)**. Respectively, each of these words translates to “report”, “communicate”, and “consult”. Keep these three things in mind when it comes to dealing with your coworkers. Alongside communication that we mentioned before, actively keeping track of your work progress will ensure that whatever problems that could occur will be resolved immediately, while also preventing any coworker from criticizing your lack of participation. Furthermore, consultation and asking for input is also a positive sign of your willingness to deliver a good performance as well as also showing your trust in your coworkers’ advice.

Protect Yourself

If you have adopted all of these principles but notice that you’re still on the receiving end of your coworker’s hostile behavior, that’s when you’ll have to start protecting yourself. Remember that at the end of the day, you are both initially coworkers, not friends. If you’re not involved in the same project or work in the same team, limit your interactions as much as possible. Even when you are placed in a position where you have to collaborate on a project, communicate as efficiently as possible regarding your tasks while setting some boundaries on personal matters.

As bureaucracy is the main characteristic of a typical team-based Japanese working culture, confrontation towards your irritating coworker is one thing you have to avoid, even if you can’t handle their rude behavior towards you anymore, as you will be branded as unprofessional by the rest of your team. Instead, keep track of (or in an extreme scenario, record) any inappropriate behavior from your coworker towards you, go up to your (or their) superior, and bring up this issue professionally. Try to mediate things through third-party communication before using your recordings as evidence once the discussion turns hostile.

Ideally, once you’ve untangled the root causes behind the disagreements with your coworker, you won’t be greeted with a newfound friendship but their behavior towards working with you will be tolerable. It should at least make it easier for you to peacefully do your work and deliver adequate results. In the case that their behavior towards you not only remains unhealthy and continues to deteriorate, you have all the right to request being moved to a different team, or you can resign. Contrary to what you might think, despite Japan’s work culture prioritizing loyalty to an employer, changing jobs in Japan is not an impossible feat for foreigners to do. In the long run, it is better for your overall well-being to not settle for a toxic work environment when there are companies in Japan that can offer employment within a healthy environment.

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