Turning cross-cultural issues in business into broader options for better management

Professor Parissa Haghirian of the Faculty of Liberal Arts focuses on cross-cultural and communication issues in business management. Through her practical and hands-on approach, she tries to uncover and explain the differences between Japanese and Western business management in a bid to help businesspeople conceive of new ideas and broaden their options in solving business problems.

Having been born and raised by an Austrian mother and an Iranian father in Austria, I was used to cross-cultural settings since my childhood, but I also found it stressful at times because there were no role models that could tell me how to emotionally deal with various challenges that resulted from cultural differences.

With solid education in Japanese studies which I received at the University of Vienna combined with my PhD in business as well as my background and experience, I thought that I could help companies and people facing cross-cultural issues to improve. I have been doing my research not only within academia, but also within corporate environments through company collaborations.

Understanding differences widens options for business solutions

Since I moved to Japan in 2004, I have not only experienced a lot of differences in how Japanese and Western people behave, but also have heard many complaints from people whose normal problem-solving methods do not work in a cross-cultural environment. For example, Westerners’ “fight for what you believe in” attitude in resolving workplace problems does not get you anywhere when you are in Japan. Here, you must first build a certain relationship with people.

The Japanese business system and managerial style is fundamentally different from other countries, which means that you can find new solutions for the same questions in Japan if you come from a different background. This is what I love about cross-cultural environments, but it can be stressful to be part of it without understanding the differences. Not only that, less gets accomplished because the entire process is different.

You may think that what you are doing or how you are doing it is so important in addressing a task, but you will come to understand that there are other perspectives if you learn how things are done in Japanese and Western business management. It is in bringing about this understanding where I can help.

Research must be for people

In my research, I often take an ethnographic approach and actually step into companies to see how they are structured and what kind of intercultural issues they have. I provide cross-cultural consulting and training to the companies, which allows me to learn what challenges they face and help to create solutions.

Being in Japan is an advantage to do this because the interaction between universities and businesses is strong. The media I use for publication of my works are not limited to academic journals. It can be newspapers and other media that are accessible for those who want answers to the issues they are facing.

There are enough researchers who collect data from hundreds of sample companies and conduct quantitative analysis. I dive deeper and start by hearing people out, which is not common in the classic international business research, but I am committed to providing information that is scientifically based while being simultaneously approachable and explanatory. This can make it easier for people to understand and apply the knowledge in their contexts.

I also let my students do the same through our case study projects that involve mini-consulting for real companies. The companies share their intercultural issues and questions, and students are asked to present their solutions to the CEOs.

Learning from the reality of cross-cultural management

Solving issues that arise from cross-cultural situations and benefiting from the situations instead will be increasingly important, especially now that buying foreign enterprises is becoming one of the only ways for Japanese companies to continue growth.

There are many other cases where Japanese and foreign managers and employees work together. In a project that I am working on with a few other universities, we will be looking at a Japanese start-up founded by a former student, that is attempting to reduce plastic waste in Japan.

I am also expanding my research to cover how Japanese companies develop international strategies and giving feedback to the companies I work with as well as students, which, I believe, will contribute to solving cross-cultural issues in business, open up more options in making business decisions, and help to make them better companies and managers.

The book I recommend

“Japanese Society”
by Chie Nakane, University of California Press

The author explains how Japanese society is different from other societies without being judgmental. She argues that group formation is the base of Japanese society, and that people create groups that are not based on kinship but nevertheless function like families, nurturing strong emotional connections. This, I think, has been one of the success factors of Japanese enterprises that have grown quickly and lasted long.

Parissa Haghirian

  • Professor
    Department of Liberal Arts
    Faculty of Liberal Arts

Parissa Haghirian earned an MA in Japanese Studies from the University of Vienna, followed by an MA and PhD in Business Administration from the Vienna University of Economics and Business. In addition to her work at Sophia University since 2006, she has been a visiting professor at HEC Paris, Keio University, Waseda University, Aalto University (Finland), Sharif University (Iran), University of Vienna, and the University of Saint Joseph in Macao. She held a professorship in Japanese Management at Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich from 2011 to 2012.

Department of Liberal Arts

Interviewed: June 2023

Sophia University

For Others, With Others