The Art of Diplomacy

During my current trip to Indonesia, I have learned and re-learned a lot of valuable lessons in Asian diplomacy. In western countries, diplomacy is often a battle of wits and clear and cleverly-worded arguments. However, in Asia, diplomacy is more complex because you have to guess the real intention of the speaker, even if the speaker says contradicting statements.

In western culture, dating and marriage can be as simply as the two parties agreeing to marry, including the romantic proposal, and then the family may become external spectators to the wedding plans. However in Asia, it is often said that marriage is a union of two families – so diplomacy is an integral part in it. I remember that when one of my sisters was proposed, my dad said something like, “My daughter couldn’t cook all that well.” It’s not the case that he was badmouthing one of his daughters, or that he was seeking an agreement from the listener. However, he was expecting a rebuttal from the other party who then mentioned other great qualities of my sister. The same thing with cooking or house, if the host said that her dish was too salty or too plain, that statement was uttered not to seek agreement, but to invite a rebuttal from you who should say that it was delicious and that the host was a great cook. “No” could mean a myriad of sentiments between the positive and the negative, and “Yes” could also be as complex!

I have learned it through watching many discussions that my parents had with my relatives – you just have to be smart to understand the real intention behind the conversation, and the right etiquette to convey yours. Asian diplomacy is almost like a verbal chess game! 🙂

Yesterday I accompanied Yani, her mum and her auntie to visit Yani’s grand-uncle in Cianjur, a town located about 60kms or so away from Bandung. Just watching them interracting with each other also gave me more insights in the art of Asian conversations and diplomacy. Having lived in Australia for so many years, I have also slowly adapted to the more direct style of western conversation: If you want it, you say it – if you don’t, you say so as well. However, such style may not be suitable for Asian conversation. For example, I asked the driver whether he wanted something from the shop, when we stopped at a local delicatessen in Cianjur. We were going to buy them for him. He told me that he didn’t want anything, which I considered as an affirmative answer. I should have bought something for him anyway, regardless of his answer because I was expected to get something for him, to show my good intention. At the end Yani’s mum bought something for him anyway. It’s one art that I have to unearth and master again as I’m sure that Asian diplomacy will be really useful in my future life.

If you’re wondering why Yani and her relatives are in Bandung – well, we invited them to attend our parents’ Golden Wedding Anniversary. It was quite a rude shock for them to see our humongous extended family. One of my sisters and her husband insisted that they sat in the same table as my parents’ so unfortunately they had to answer the queries how they were related to the family. Nonetheless, they had devised a diplomatic answer during the course of the evening. Haha. At least they had seen my extended family and more than they needed to know, really!

Prior to my trip to Cianjur yesterday, after the driver and I picked up Yani and her relatives, we stopped by the hotel to say hello to my parents. Unbeknownst to me and Yani, my mum suddenly discussed about the prospect of our family proposing to Yani’s family. :O It was quite an embarassing moment to me, and to Yani as well. It’s certainly quite different to the western scene of the man devising a romantic setting for him to propose to the lady. 😳 My mum did most of the talking since my dad didn’t talk much after his strokes several years ago. Yani’s mum and my mum were then engaged in the delicate game of Asian diplomacy where they had to correctly read the intention and mood of each other. Puhretty tiring game, if I must say.

So, if you happen to be in Asia and are engaged in a discussion, negotiation or even in a simple conversation, just remember that you have to guess the real intention of the speaker and then carefully construct your statement in the acceptable manner! A negative statement may be spoken to elicit rebuttals and words of praise. It’s pretty confusing for me as somebody who has been living in multiple cultures! 😀


Published by fuzz

I've finally relented to the lures of blogging - and for those who care, well, I'm a self-confessed geek who's a wanderer at heart, who thinks and analyses too much, and who's trying hard to hold on to his 7-year old inner persona.

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