Thursday, May 04, 2006

Shooting the breeze

Iago has been away from Malaysia for nearly three decades, moving around in the US - Michigan, Boston, San Jose, New York. He came back because of his parents. Plenty of our successful sons (or daughters) abroad come back because of this. I think if the Malaysian government is smart, it will capitalise on the parents getting old syndrome to effect a reverse brain drain.

Anyways, Iago is telling me that even after two years, some things still strike him as just plain weird over here. Like the tenor of conversations with clients.

"Now Raymond here (he indicates his colleague seated next to him), he calls up our client in China and starts asking after his wife and daughter, and here I am champing at the bit, wondering why he doesn't just get on with it."

Raymond, Wai Cheong (the other director) and I smile at each other in a superior fashion. Being Malaysian, Raymond's behaviour makes perfect sense to us. It is not "wasting time". It is "building relationships".

We each try to explain this to Iago.

I tell him that when I was a reporter, I would take out the people I wanted to cultivate and buy them dinner. And we would talk about everything under the canopy but the business at hand. Two weeks later, when I called, I would be able to get what I wanted without any fuss. I had moved from "contact" to "friend". And these people would even call me with leads. (Sometimes, being notoriously lazy and having other priorities, like hanging out with my sister at the mall when she was visiting, this eagerness would irritate. But it would get me frontpage stories)

I also recount a story I heard from a Kiwi who had been to Morocco. He wanted to purchase a beautiful vase at a bazaar. He indicated his interest, the owner named a price. Then they sat down, had tea together and talked about other things. While they were chatting an Aussie couple came up, asked about another vase, and plunked down the cash without attempting to bargain. The stall owner was horrified. He couldn't understand how anyone could be so rude. He shook his head sadly as he wondered aloud to my friend about what this world was coming to. My friend nodded sipping his apple tea. Finally, after a half hour, tradition satisfied, the stall owner sold him the coveted vase for one-third the price. Everyone went away from that encounter happy.

Iago shakes his head. Exasperation written on his otherwise kindly visage. To him, it is an incredibly roundabout way of doing business.

Wai Cheong suggests that perhaps there are other things as important as concluding the business at hand. "The difference between East and Westlar. Just take it like that! Haiya, you've been away too long!"

He is surrounded. Poor guy. I feel strains of weepy violin music coming on.

"Yeah, also the difference between men and women. Why do you think we hang on the phone so long while you guys take five minutes?" I chip in.

I know an Australian professor of linguistics who actually studied the difference between male and female phone conversations. He came to the conclusion that the male conversations were nearly always about settling the business at hand which is why they could be concluded very quickly. Female conversations could be about nothing in particular, but they were actually geared towards building relationships. The professor mentioned this to his son Lars, who was engaged in trying to get his sister Katrinka off the phone.

Lars: "Look, you just make a list of things you have to convey to the other person, and I'm sure you would only need five minutes. Cut down your talk time by 90 per cent."

Katrinka (ignoring him): "And she was like, so not impressed and I said, `k babe, if that's the way you want to play it..."

All this means of course, being both Eastern and female, I am twice as prone to such time-wasting behaviour.

Sigh. OK gotta go call Mary now. She hasn't heard from me in two days and will probably be worried.

On second thoughts, I won't. I've switched off my phone and intend to continue anti-social behaviour indefinitely.

We artists have to take time out to be eccentric.


goldennib said...

Ok, here's a question: Do you feel stress by doing business this way?

Because this sounds kinda good, but I'm one of those, let's get business over and done. I hardly ever use the phone to chat. I call for specific reasons and then want to get off. When someone calls me, I want them to do the same (I am the bane of my mother's existance - she's a chatter.)

Then I can relax and be personable.

goldennib said...

I was interrupted before. I would like to take it easy more, but work doesn't factor it to it anywhere, but that could be because I'm not getting paid yet for what I want to do.

I don't know. I've started drinking, so I'm getting goofy again.

Smoking Loon Merlot, lovely.

Jenn said...

Actually no. The other way of doing business, only dealing with the business at hand, that stresses me out. After a day of those type conversations, I feel tired and drained out.

Also, the chatting is not seen as a virulent form of time wasting. Recently in one of my jobs I was calling various companies to get their views on something.

It was much pleasanter chatting with the few people who actually knew me and remembered me from when I was a reporter than the cut and dried conversations with those I didn't know. It was stressful calling up strangers and some of them could be pretty abrupt.

David Cho said...

Yeah, but things are completely the opposite when it comes to sports.

When I wanted to watch a game, my sister would always say, "Why can't you just find out the score from the evening news?"

No, Einstein. It is the process that we enjoy. It is the drama throughout the game, not just the final score. That is why we watch it.

goldennib said...

I think the difference may be a numbers thing. How many deals can you close in the least amount of time. We are not trained to enjoy the process, only to prize the results. It would be nice to have it the other way round.

part-time buddha said...

No offense to your friend, but I'm not surprised that someone named Iago has difficulty with human interactions.

"We artists have to take time out to be eccentric." - Thanks for that. Nothing like someone else justifying my occasionally bizarre behavior.

Jenn said...

David: Hmmm. Sport. Although I appreciate the analogy.

Nessa: The thing is, you wont be closing those deals over here if you rush through them. Getting a client is a delicate and laborious process. And getting them to stick to you once you've got them, that requires an investment of time and inanities. You don't want them to move over to someone else tomorrow who offers the same thing 20 cents cheaper.

PTB: Iago isn't his real name. I can't use his real name for privacy purposes. That was just my little joke. Frankenstein and the like. Although I would like to name my cat (or dog) Iago and speak to the critter in a Eastern European accent. AHAHAHAHAHA!

Also, you're welcome. You couldn't be too eccentric for me.

goldennib said...

I would be ok with this process, if loyalty were involved, as you suggest it is. Over here, the guy who sold it 20 cents cheaper would get the business. Now, that I think about it, I prefer relationships, too. I fight to keep the same vendors, if they give me really good service regardless of price, because ultimately the hidden costs are more expensive than saving a few pennies up front.

Jenn said...

I think over here, especially with big clients, loyalty factors into everything. Once they have signed up with you, a relationship is created. Among other things, they wont want to jeopardise their personal relationship with you by switching.

One of my bosses told me that all buying decisions are emotional. We award a tender to such and such because we like the guy. We find reasons to pretend it's logical.

Of course, this makes it difficult for the newcomers. They can shout themselves hoarse and not get anyone to see their value proposition.