From December 22, 2008.

In the United States, it seems that unless you’re in sales, you don’t think much about a client’s personal life. In dealing with clients, you’d become acquaintances at most. Beyond this, you probably know what sports team they follow, but doubtfully their spouse’s name. Even I must fess up to not knowing a few of my client’s spouse’s name or what they do. Something I’m not proud of.

Here in Taiwan though, one of the first things that happens when I’m meeting business owners after exchanging names and business cards is sitting down to tea and snacks. The topic of the next hour or so is then personally related of who we are, how we get where we are, and where we like to go and what we like to do outside of work.

After those discussions and once we’re sure that we’re personally comfortable with each other, then we’ll discuss whether business between us is possible. Even then, we’ll go through a new round of tea and snacks to discuss what each of us has to offer the other. After this discussion, we’ll go back and talk with our respective companies to decide if we want to do with doing business together.

Well before that point, I’d think a typical American’s patience would’ve been worn out. After two or three hours of discussions, you’re still on hold for another day or 14 before you’ll even talking about a deal. However, that’s a discussion for another day.

For today though, with getting so close to the client upfront, how far do you go now and later? You want to keep up a good relationship with the client in hopes of securing initial and future business. Besides, as people, we want others to like us or at least not think ill of us.

For the client and friendship boundary, the closest I’ve come to a hard and fast rule through many discussions and reading is this; do not go beyond the point of comfort for yourself and the company that your work for.

In the United States, managing that line between clients and friendship seems easier as we Westerners tend to inherently like to keep business and personal life separate. Even when pressed, we could tell clients that our company policies limit the amount of client socializing to business orientated activities only.

In Asia and for the Eastern cultures I’ve interacted with, telling clients no when they invite you to personal activities only needs kind patience on your behalf. Even if you have to politely decline the request several times.

Going deeper without spending too much time in explanation is this, most Easterners are quite hospitable by the nature of their culture. Sometimes, even their kind sounding offers are only put out there to prove the level of commitment to the relationship between the two of you they have. You don’t have to say yes. A polite no thank you or three will suffice just fine and keep cultures and face in check.

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  • Michael Cannon

    Thank you Dimitri for the comment. I was thinking the same thing in regarding trust. You really have to it here in the Eastern cultures because the government and legal systems feel so slippery.