Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Think small talk!

A meeting with a new customer or supplier in Asia often starts with some small talk. For Westerners used to get straight to the point when it comes to business, chatting about the weather, the movies you watched in the plane or the well being of your family may be a bit disconcerting at first but it makes perfect sense in the Asian society: it creates some harmony by making you feel good and relaxed before working together. It is a smooth transition between the "before" (ie the stress of the traffic jam or the long hours in a flight) and the time spent together (ie a meeting, a factory visit or a business lunch).

Asians like to know more about the character and the experience of their partners before entrusting them. This small talk can get into very personal questions like "how old are you?", "are you married?" or even "how much are you making?". Don't feel uncomfortable about this and answer only if you want to. If you don't want to answer one of the questions, just brush it off cleverly without confronting your speaker or showing irritation. For example you could answer the later by "Enough to enjoy life with my family".

Asians expect you to do the same and ask as many questions as you wish to better understand the person you're going to work with. Just make sure to avoid politically incorrect questions like questions about human rights or politics in China, about the Emperor in Japan or the royal family in Thailand. If your conversation is hold over the phone, take the opportunity to figure out if you are speaking to a male or a female if his/her name doesn't make it clear for you, especially in China and in India. You wouldn't believe me if I told you how many times I though I was dealing with a male by email before figuring out that I was talking to a female!

[Feel free to use and share this material for non-commercial purpose. And don't hesitate to share your experience and questions in the comments or by email; I will come back to you as quickly as possible. Happy reading!]