Nemawashi (根回し) and the Art of Standing up for Yourself

Sit down my children. I want to tell you a story.

My boss – or rather, my boss’s boss’s boss – is a second generation Japanese American who has studied Japanese business extensively enough to say he practiced it in Japan for several years. He is an extremely intelligent and ambitious leader who taught me the term nemawashi some time ago. I called it jabberwocky until I actually remembered how to pronounce it – because it reminded me of that – but that is a different matter entirely.

In Japan it’s typical for small subsets of the participants to get together prior to the meeting.  This allows for more frank and vigorous discussion than is possible when everyone is together in the larger meeting.  We call it nemawashi.
Japan Intercultural Consulting

Nemawashi is the act of getting everyone on the same page prior to discussing a proposal in an effort to avoid the arguments that typically happen in meetings. Corporate meetings have become what happens in a comment thread on Facebook rather than an actual productive discussion, and the Japanese people have many effective practices to resolve issues like this in American corporate culture.

My actual boss, two tiered levels below the man who has taught me so much, has also taught me much. She is also an extremely intelligent human being who has studied the art of the corporate professional in today’s work environment.

There is a meeting style that follows a very specific process – one of many that Japanese manufacturers invented – that promotes linear thinking. In this process, participants vote anonymously on ideas until a popular vote is reached. The key is in fact anonymously. The reasoning behind this ideal is that it is human nature to “follow” the most powerful person in the room – ie the boss – because of a desire to impress him or her. This is part of the reason you nemawashi. So you don’t have a bunch of people changing their opinions just so they can agree with the boss and be “noticed.” My direct supervisor taught me all of this and though I am grateful, I was pressed to believe it actually happened until Donald Trump ran for president of this country, but again, that’s a different matter entirely.

I practiced nemawashi for a very important final meeting I had today. This meeting was the result of nearly a year of research and brainstorming. Everybody I talked to – 90% of the participants of the meeting – agreed with the proposal. But, in appropriation with human nature, as soon as a person in power disagreed with the idea, everyone disagreed with the idea.

I think corporate culture – and how we approach it – has something  to teach us about standing up for ourselves. About feeling comfortable enough in our own skin to stand by what we know is right in the face of power, not just in a conservative setting like this, but in our relationships, our friendships, the articles we write, the decisions we make, and ultimately, the way we choose to live our lives.

Your opinion matters. You matter. Don’t back down for anybody, because success and power can be measured in very different ways. I don’t make any money for the blood, sweat, tears, time, and hard work that I put into my mental health advocacy – if anything, I lose money – but I am still successful. There is a measure of success in what you do and in what every person does that is unique in perspective. The commonality amongst society is the singular opinion that everyone should do what they think is right, and so should you.

You have to stand up for yourself. No one is going to do it for you.


A Bestselling Author, NPO VP, and Psychology Today Blogger from Burbank, California, Allie Burke writes books she can’t find in the bookstore. Having been recognized as writing a “kickass book that defies the genre it’s in”, Allie writes with a prose that has been labeled poetic and ethereal.

Her life is a beautiful disaster, flowered with the harrowing existence of inherited eccentricity, a murderous family history, a faithful literature addiction, and the intricate darkness of true love. These are the enchanting experiences that inspire Allie’s fairytales.

From some coffee shop in Los Angeles, she is working on her next novel.


3 thoughts on “Nemawashi (根回し) and the Art of Standing up for Yourself”

  1. Reading this, I remember a time when I worked in an organization with a small staff, that ran on consensus decision making. Important decisions were supposed to be unanimous. Once there was one with which i disagreed and I blocked consensus, in part because the majority position was based on. “How it always has been done.” Eventually, I had to abstain from the vote and allow the process to continue because the others could not be swayed. Since we were in the mental health business, later, my supervisor wanted to talk about things like “transference”. She quickly realized I wasn’t going there and commented, “You’ve got some badass guard dogs.” and we had a good laugh. There really is no substitute for standing up for yourself. The payoff is self respect, and often the respect of others.


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