Breaking the Barrier: Mastering Verbal Communication

May 07, 2024By Danny Katz


For Japanese patent professionals working with American colleagues, mastering verbal communication is not just about fluency in English; it's about bridging cultural nuances that can define the success of your collaboration. While the comfort of written communication is undeniable, especially for non-native speakers, relying solely on emails or texts can sometimes lead to misunderstandings and inefficiencies. This post aims to help you navigate when to pick up the phone and how to do so effectively.

Understanding the Cultural Context

Firstly, it’s important to understand the cultural differences in communication styles. American professionals often favor direct and quick verbal exchanges and may view the ability to discuss matters over the phone as a sign of competence and confidence. In contrast, Japanese professionals may prefer written communication because it provides a record of exchanges and allows more time to consider responses carefully, reflecting the high value placed on precision and harmony.

However, this preference can sometimes slow down the process, especially in scenarios where quick decision-making is crucial. Here are some scenarios in patent law where verbal communication is preferable:

- Negotiating terms: Rapid back-and-forth discussion can expedite consensus.
- Clarifying complex issues: Immediate clarification of doubts can prevent the cascading effect of misunderstandings.
- Building relationships: Conversational nuances can strengthen professional relationships, which are invaluable in long-term collaborations.

Strategies for Effective Verbal Communication

1. Preparation is Key: Before making a call, prepare your points in advance. Write down key terms and any questions you want to ask. This preparation will help you stay focused and make the most of the call.

2. Language Practice: Regularly practice your English in a spoken form. This could be through language exchange, formal classes, or even practicing speeches in front of a mirror. Familiarity breeds confidence.

3. Understand and Adapt to American Directness: Be prepared for a more direct style of communication. Americans tend to be straightforward in their professional interactions, which can seem brusque. Understanding this as a cultural difference rather than a personal affront can help you respond more effectively.

4. Use Technology to Your Advantage: If accent or speed becomes a barrier on a call, consider using real-time transcription software that can convert speech to text. This way, you can be sure not to miss critical details during conversations.

5. Start Small: Begin with less critical communications to build your confidence. As you become more comfortable, gradually move on to more significant discussions.

Balancing Communication Styles

While improving verbal communication, remember that written communication still has its place. Use written follow-ups to confirm what was agreed on during calls, or to provide detailed explanations where necessary. This balanced approach ensures clarity and maintains a record while also harnessing the efficiency of verbal exchanges.


For Japanese patent professionals, effectively communicating with American counterparts can seem daunting. However, by understanding the cultural underpinnings of these differences and strategically developing your verbal communication skills, you can become more proficient and confident. Remember, the goal is to complement your strong written skills with equally robust verbal communication skills, making you a well-rounded and highly effective professional in international settings.