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Honne Tatemae

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Karl W. Palachuk
May 29, 2011

The Japanese have two words – Honne and Tatemae – that describe recognized social behaviors.

According to our friends at Wikipedia:

Honne refers to a person’s true feelings and desires. These may be contrary to what is expected by society or what is required according to one’s position and circumstances, and they are often kept hidden, except with one’s closest friends.”

Tatemae, literally ‘facade,’ is the behavior and opinions one displays in public. Tatemae is what is expected by society and required according to one’s position and circumstances, and these may or may not match one’s honne.”

The honne/tatemae concepts are very powerful in Japanese culture and represent the long-held desire to minimize conflict in public. These concepts are not unique to Japan, of course. We all feel conflict between our “public selves” and our private needs and desires.

At some level, this distinction between your personal desires and your public duties is very natural. After all, society itself exists because people are able to set aside some of their personal desires in order to bind together into a larger community. Where people become too self-centered, society falls apart. Where people become too community-centered, they lose individuality. As with everything else in life, balance is needed.

I am a big fan of the DISC profile for evaluating personality traits and helping to build the teams I work with. One of the key elements of the DISC tool is that it attempts to identify one’s natural tendencies as well as the behavior that one plays in the workplace. This distinction is very important because stress causes us to retreat back to our more natural (personal) personality. For example, a naturally shy person might be very outgoing at work on a regular day. But on a day filled with stress, that person’s shy tendency will be a lot stronger.

All too often, we only know someone in one context (work, community, play, school, etc.). As a result, we are most likely to only see their Tatemae side – the face they put on in public. This is even true of most co-workers. It is very important that we remember that the people around us have deeper, more complicated lives than what we see. Of course we already know this, but we tend to not think about it.

This whole concept is very interesting to me because it is central to the Relax Focus Succeed philosophy that stress is caused in large part by the gaps we create between the various roles we play. Ideally, you can be the same person at work, at home, at school, and in a community or church setting. But, in reality, we play different roles and bring different pieces of our personality to each of these.

This is not dishonest by any means. It is very natural. You might need to be analytical and precise at work, but you can be very loving and cuddly at home. Neither of these is dishonest, but simply two roles you play, each allowing you to draw on different traits within yourself.

Stress comes when you find yourself playing two dramatically different roles, one much more natural and comfortable than the other.

Think about your life and the roles you play. Are there other (better) roles you could be playing to reduce stress?



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