Apply the Artful Approach to Human Relationships



“In real life, the most practical advice for leaders is not to treat pawns like pawns, nor princes like princes, but all persons like persons.” — James MacGregor Burns

As we were wrapping up the deal, the RV salesmen turned to me and said, “We have Giri between us.”

I asked him what he meant, and he said if I read Alchemy of a Leader, by John E. Rehfeld, I’ll understand.

At the time, I figured it had something to do with good will and integrity.

More Time Ahead of Us Than Behind Us

The RV salesman was sharing his experience, and really helping me understand my pains, needs, and desired outcomes in an authentic way.  All of his help and guidance was based on long-term mutual benefit vs. short-term gain.

He was making decisions with the idea that we have more time ahead of us then behind us, and it’s a small world.

Giri: A Positive Bond

Giri, simply put, is a positive force of mutual trust and appreciation.

Via Alchemy of a Leader:

“Giri is another Japanese  term with no direct English equivalent.  It refers to what North Carolina State University professor Linda S. Dillon calls ‘a range of obligation’  or what Japan scholar Edward Hall describes as ‘indebtedness to others.’ 

In my experience, Giri is almost always a positive force; it is what remains after business or personal relationships have deepened through exchanges of mutual trust and appreciation

Occasionally, only after some grave personal offense has been committed, Giri takes on a negative, ‘getting even’ connotation. 

Usually, however, the need to get even because of Giri refers to the duty to do something nice, like return a compliment.”

“We Have Giri Between Us”

When you say that we have Giri between us, you acknowledge that positive bond.

Via Alchemy of a Leader:

“Giri is the result of all Japanese relations-building. 

It is that palpable, yet intangible, sense of personal honor, the ‘I can’t do that to do-and-so because we have Giri between us’ attitude, or, ‘of course, I’ll come in and work on Sunday to help my colleague, with whom I have a relationship built on Giri.’ 

The goal of Japanese manager and worker alike is to build and maintain Giri, a pattern of honorable interactions, as widely as possible.”

Treat Each Other as Longtime Allies

Instead of treating people as a means to an end, people are the end.

Via Alchemy of a Leader:

“Western managers might well ask themselves what they or their companies can do to create among their employees the sense of personal honor, of Giri, which serves the Japanese so well. It is crucial to have employees and customers when possible, bound to one another by some higher moral force. 

This may mean occasionally forgoing a business or management opportunity to make a fast buck if the opportunity comes at the expense of a customer, business partner, or employee. 

The essential strength of Giri is that it grows out of individual’s sense of self-esteem and esteem for others

In Japan, Giri sometimes feels like a socially regimented emotion, lacking in warmth, but its existence is a manifestation of profound loyalty.  Once the Giri mentality is established, it acts as an internal regulator and helps lead workers and managers to treat teach other as longtime allies.”

Each Individual Relationship is Important

Each one matters.

Via Alchemy of a Leader:

“A young employee who witnesses his supervisor honoring a longstanding business relationship or obligation gets a powerful message from that interaction; it demonstrates that, to the manager, each individual relationship is important and, potentially, long –lasting. 

It lets employees know, almost subconsciously, that they also have an opportunity to develop such mutually reciprocal and beneficial relationships with their co-workers, managers, and subordinates. 

Modeling this behavior is perhaps the best way a manager can reinforce the sense that success in business is directly linked with each employee’s relationships with customers and colleagues.”

Make Business More Pleasant, and Enjoyable

Enjoy the process.  Enjoy the people.

Via Alchemy of a Leader:

“For example, I recently had an opportunity to start a new relationship with a major Japanese consumer electronics vendor.  First, we met in my office to review progress on our product development activities.  Then we played golf.  Golf was followed by dinner at my house, punctuated with an end-of-evening picture-taking session. 

The next day, after a one-hour wrap-up meeting in my office, my guest hosted me for dinner at one of his favorite restaurants.  Outside the office, very little business was discussed.  However, when my guest departed we both had the feeling of being long-lost buddies. 

We could have, of course, concluded our business discussions in far less time.  Instead, we took the time to get it right; both of us now feel a responsibility to help each other in ways we might not have considered if our personal relationship was not as strong. 

On a less intense basis, I try to nurture similar relationships with all of my key business contacts.  Doing so improves the working relationship and, in addition, help make business much more pleasant and enjoyable.”

Hone Relationship-Building to a High Art

Building effective relationships takes practice and with practice you can hone it to a high art.

Via Alchemy of a Leader:

“Relationship-building is perhaps the most compelling and satisfying part of doing business Japanese-style.  In a highly effective and culturally unique way, many of the Japanese I have worked with over the years have won permanent places in my heart.  I have fond memories of man of these individuals and a strong sense of Giri exists between us. 

For the Japanese, relationship-building is, indeed, a daily practice honed to a high art.  Within limits, most managers would do well to learn to apply this artful approach to human relationships.”

Interestingly, Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence, had this to say about the East vs. West approach to relationships in business:

“Companies in the East put a lot more emphasis on human relationships, while those from the West focus on the product, the bottom line. Westerners appear to have more of a need for achievement, while in the East there’s more need for affiliation.”

When you remember that life is short, it’s really a small world, and people are the difference that make the difference, your natural ability to establish Giri starts to shines through.

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