Fred and Graham are two senior analog engineering managers who just returned from a joint business trip to Thailand.
Fred (an analytical introvert) was born and brought up in Raleigh and he studied in North Carolina. This was his first trip abroad. Fred attested that “I know nothing about Asia” before he left. “This will all be new to me-all I can say is that I am open to learn and sound stupid’.
Graham (a more jovial and outgoing extrovert) was born in Boston and he has a Chinese-Thai grandmother, which you would never know by the looks of him. He speaks rudimentary Thai yet Graham understands about 80 percent of what is said. Graham visited Thailand as a child, and this was his first business trip. “Don’t worry, Freddy -boy……you may be a better engineer than me, but YOU chose the right guy with whom to go to Thailand. I’ll show you the ropes”.
Fred loved the trip; he felt comfortable at all times and he was well liked. Fred was patient and “half the time I did not know what was going on”….but more of often than not, Fred managed to engage the people effectively. The clients simply loved him.
Graham was far less lucky. Graham found himself very impatient with the pace of things. Try as he did, the locals did not appreciate his language skills and they preferred answering Graham in English. Graham felt the locals almost resisted him and he felt out of place.
Most strange of all,the clients preferred Fred to Graham, because they felt Graham “speaks down” and felt ashamed of their poor English. The clients understood why Fred went “straight” to business without small talk, and pardoned him. When Graham went “straight to business”, they chided him as “are you sure you are part Thai”?
This story illustrates a complex dynamic between Fred and Graham’s Thai hosts, within Graham’s psyche as well as the upside of knowing that you know nothing.