Australians networking in Asia, who usually worship at the altar of coffee, need to embrace the art of lunch. And by lunch I mean real food, in real restaurants with people you have been introduced to by a respected third party.
So here’re some do’s and don’ts, distilled, if not brewed, from experience.
- The restaurant– do aim for good Asian food, eaten with chopsticks when offered. And if you don’t like Asian food or haven’t learned chopsticks, then take some lessons before you leave home.
- Food ordering – don’t be difficult about food choices. If you are gluten free, dairy free, allergic to nightshades, can’t eat carbs after midday, only eat free range chicken or hand selected, grass fed, free range beef – keep it to yourself. Unless you have a medical reason for outlier food choices, you need to respect the food culture of the country you are doing business in. Vegetarianism is fine – just.
- Conversation – don’t start the conversation with personal questions such as how was your weekend, or how many children do you have. Do talk broadly about the industry before talking about their business or yours. Do your research and find common ground. Personal stories can be shared once trust is established.
- Timing – don’t rush through lunch, which is usually the biggest meal of the day in many countries in Asia and an occasion where people deepen friendships and relationships.
- Relationships – don’t rush things. Australians are very good at building ‘light touch’ relationships but in many Asian cultures, business relationships will take longer and require deeper engagement.
- Culture – do take the time to learn about the culture in which you are seeking business networks. Show genuine interest and curiosity in the culture of your dining companions.
- Results – don’t ask for anything at the first lunch. It is your opportunity to show credibility and demonstrate respectfulness of your guests. Focus on building trust over the long term.
Finally, once lunch is done, prepare yourself for networking in the evening where in some countries, particularly Japan and Korea, much business is done outside the boardroom.
If you don’t drink, you should perhaps consider taking someone along who does, for many deals are done over a drink, or two, or more.
Overall, for Australians looking to network in Asia, it’s important to remember it’s not exactly one-size-fits all and what is standard here may not stack up elsewhere.
Jacqueline Gillespie is a Senior client partner and head of Asia Desk, Korn Ferry Australasia.
Asia is a big place with many different cultural norms. Do you do coffee in Asia? What’s your experience for appropriate social business settings? Have you ever unintentionally committed a faux-pas when trying to do business in the region?
Please share your thoughts in the comments below or on social media.