Tuesday, 25 September 2018

"Dear applicant, we regret to inform you...". Rejection letters and politeness strategies in Japan and the U.S.

An analysis of Japanese and US-American rejection letters sent to applicants came to the conclusion that politeness strategies differ. While US-American letters tend to look personal - e.g. by addressing letters personally, often by forename - Japanese letters openly show that all rejected applicants receive the same letter and don't use forenames as not preserving a certain distance would be considered as disrespectful. US-Americans attempt to look positive and communicate concern while Japanese feel less uncomfortable when they are rejected as "one of many" (Baresova, 2008).

"To counterbalance the negativity of refusal and inadequacy with something positive, the Americans frequently added praise for the candidate’s “excellent qualifications”, which, although very personal in appearance, lacked any specifics and were, upon closer comparison, remarkably similar, even between letters addressed to the candidate with many years of experience and the new graduate with no qualifications at all."
Baresova, 2008:108

"It could be argued that the Americans only seem to be more personal than the Japanese, because the Americans also send virtually the same letter to all applicants, but this would be to ignore the more significant fact. Of course neither the Americans nor the Japanese are going to write individualized letters. The difference is that the Americans want to seem personal."
Baresova, 2008:109

"Each culture has a different perception of what is polite, and each language has various devices for expressing politeness. Some situations call for more politeness than others. The importance of politeness increases with the degree of potential offense to the hearer. Rejection is, by its very nature, one of the most offensive speech acts, and if not done politely it is quite likely to negatively impact the hearer’s self-image. Therefore, various politeness strategies are employed to minimize its negative impact. To perform a rejection is not easy, even if both parties have a complete understanding of the language and rituals concerning politeness in that culture. To reject someone from another culture without causing offense or misunderstanding is even more challenging."
Baresova, 2008:11

- Baresova, I. (2008). Politeness Strategies in Cross-Cultural Perspective. Study of American and Japanese Employment Rejection Letters. Olomoue: Palacky University.
- photographs by Micheal Rougier (1964) via and via and via and via


  1. Brilliant, thanks for the share!!

    1. I find politeness as a cultural construct extremely interesting. Many thanks, Karen!