In some ways it’s good to get comfortable disappointing your friends and colleagues. When I first moved to Japan I became known for drinking my own pitcher of beer, one after another, after kendo training. My Japanese buddies loved to see me drink a horse trough of beer and stay on my feet.
In Japan alcohol is an important part of society. Once a ‘campai’ toast is shared, and the booze starts flowing, it’s like entering another world. The stiff, reserved, cautious professionalism is immediately replaced with open conversation, ridiculous jokes, and pure, timeless good cheer. Alcoholism is a hobby in Japan, and honestly it works out just fine for a lot of people. The Japanese are among the longest living people in the world.
It sure caught up to me though. There have been plenty of times when my life nearly fell apart from my addiction to booze. Thankfully, I was given the power to stop before I lost everything. Predictably, this slammed the brakes on my Japanese social life. My Japanese friends, colleagues, and clients were disappointed to the point where in a real way I could tell I lost part of their trust. Not all of them, surfers and the more rough and tumble didn’t care so much, but there was a clear difference with my professional contacts. They were disappointed because we couldn’t have fun together anymore.
Becoming comfortable with their disappointment saved my life. It also helped me in business. I had a Japanese client that kept asking for more and more outside of our contract. In Japan, like anywhere else, you don’t want to disappoint a client. After proposing a contract change to adjust to the increasing demands the client seemed shocked. It seemed that my client’s Japanese contractors just accepted doing more and more work while being paid the same. As this was after I had stopped drinking, I had become comfortable disappointing people. I ended the contract, and was fine with it. This was a great lesson. I had learned that disappointing people, in some cross-cultural contexts, wasn’t a bad thing.
I think there are a series a shifts that business people working in a foreign country go through. It’s not good to disappoint others willy nilly, but there are times when it really is the best thing both personally and in business.