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Becoming friends with clients, and mixing work/life?
10

Becoming friends with clients, and mixing work/life?

Becoming friends with clients, and mixing work/life?

(OP)
I'm not sure how to handle situations where clients or industry peers want to hang out. For example, a certain client invited me to come out for drinks or to a restaurant 3 times so far, and it was a bit hard to say no. This will sound outrageous, but he bought the same Porsche I have after he saw mine and now wants to go to Porsche meets together. Another business relationship invited me to a bathhouse, so we went and relaxed, but I was questioning what I was doing there. Last week, a client came to train our office for zoning (which we clearly said we'd pay for), didn't take the money, invited us out to dinner, and said he considered us friends and would never charge for it.

I'm just not sure how much to blend friendship and professional life. I feel like if I have a strong connection with someone, it makes it harder to do business. I have to charge clients fair rates, but when we're friends, I feel like they ask me to go above and beyond compared to other clients. I don't need more friends in my life. I have a family and close friends already. I know business is built on trust and relationships, but I have a feeling that too much intermingling interferes with standard business procedures. I wonder if I'm being too transactional in business, but business is literally a series of transactions.

Then there's the problem of relatives. I hired one in the past, I fired him for continual lack of performance, and we didn't talk for like 3 years. Time healed the wounds and we're close again. But it was just a rough spot with someone I'm quite close with. Since I own a business, I have relatives asking to work for me. I have to constantly turn them down because I don't want a repeat of the past experience. If I hire a friend or relative, I just wouldn't be able to treat them as I would any employee.

Anyone have similar experiences or opinions to the contrary?

RE: Becoming friends with clients, and mixing work/life?

I'm not really a people person... I can count my friends on one hand, and still have fingers left over. I get along well with people, but I don't really form friendships.

-----*****-----
So strange to see the singularity approaching while the entire planet is rapidly turning into a hellscape. -John Coates

-Dik

RE: Becoming friends with clients, and mixing work/life?

I think your concerns are justified. Occasionally going out for drinks with clients is a good thing, so long as it isn't too much of a habit. One thing that our generation struggles with is the stratification of relationships. In many cases, you're a friend or you're not, and that's it. The nuance of aquaintance, business associates, friends, and intimate friends (not that kind of intimate) gets lost. If you can find it and set boundaries accordingly, you'll be fine. Others may struggle to understand, but you'll both be better for it in the long run.

RE: Becoming friends with clients, and mixing work/life?

(OP)
@dik I am a people person and consider friends essential, but I only need the friends I can count on my fingers. When adding clients and stuff, it goes into dozens, which I definitely don't need.

@phamENG The hard part is setting those boundaries. Some people try to cross it all the time, so their boundaries are far different. I guess either they don't have enough friends and see the friendliness of our business relationship as more than only that, or they want a business advantage.

RE: Becoming friends with clients, and mixing work/life?

2
The trick is holding the line. Eventually they'll get the idea. Anecdote time:

Had a contractor, a couple years older than me, that decided we would be friends and help each other grow our businesses. Okay. I didn't encourage it, but didn't exactly discourage it - I was just starting out and having a reliable source of work was indeed a bonus. Invited me over for drinks, birthday party, etc. I tried to be polite and come to something occasionally, but wasn't there at his beck and call. Then I get the call - "hey, man, had a job shut down. My guys built this porch and I didn't pull the permit. City wants a letter saying everything is okay before they'll pull the stop work order, can you help me out?" Well, he thought he was asking a friend to "help him out" rather than asking his structural engineer to do a job. The mixture of confusion and anger in his voice when he called after receiving a four page letter outlining all of the poor workmanship and code violations is hard to describe. He paid the bill, though. And then I never heard from him again. Boundary established.

RE: Becoming friends with clients, and mixing work/life?

35 years ago me and most of my close friends all worked at one company, and we had a client in the south who ran a golf outing. Only the young guys would go, none of the older managers or owners. Trust me, they were a lot of fun, but I personally could only take it once a year. Too much liquor, too many go-go bars, too many 3 am nights with 8 am tee times. Kind of shocked those guys are all still alive. I'm an introvert at heart, and those drips drained me.

As for hiring friends and family, avoid that like the plague. I did it once and the friendship ended in acrimony.

As for clients asking for personal favors involving my license, I've had two clients never call again after I refused to make problems go away.

RE: Becoming friends with clients, and mixing work/life?

Well they always say don't mix business and pleasure and that still holds.

A bit of context might help - Are you all principals of the businesses / operations that you control? Larger companies are normally quite hot on this sort of thing to avoid getting sued or investigated under bribery legislation.

but if you're a smaller company, the issue is what sort of percent of your business does this Porsche driving friend have? As noted above, either way it is at risk once the other party with a bit more power in the business relationship starts to move it more into the personal side. Sooner or later you will get a call like phamENG recalled or just initial "can you just do...?", "can you just have a quick look at...?" leads into other requests.

However sometimes it swings the other way and you get favourable notice of future work or just the odd pass on some deadline missed or cost increase you want to pass on. But most of the time the "friendship" works the other way. As for the free training then you could just say "We had allocated money for this and if you don't want to charge we feel bad about that so can we donate this to a charity / cause of your choice instead. Then you make it clear that the training has still "cost" the business some money.

As for the relatives and friends part, you just need to make it clear in writing if necessary, that the favour extended to them because they are some relative or friend finished at getting them the job. Make it crystal clear that you expect exemplary attendance and performance and will be treated like any other employee and if you get reports that they are using your relationship to get internal favours or not pulling their weight then they are out - and you've done it before. Then tell whoever has approached you if anyone on their behalf AND all the other staff. If you did it before they might then have confidence that you'll do it again. But I can understand why you would have a policy against doing that, especially if you're a relatively small company.

I'm sure (think) it was a typo / Freudian slip, but I did like Srucpaths last line "I'm an introvert at heart, and those drips drained me.

Remember - More details = better answers
Also: If you get a response it's polite to respond to it.

RE: Becoming friends with clients, and mixing work/life?

I try to maintain cordial communication with clients. I don't drink, so that eliminates most invitations. I'm usually too busy with work to go play golf, once they see me golf they won't invite me back.

It seems more natural that if I bump into a client at a social event, to greet and make small talk, but not get too deep.

RE: Becoming friends with clients, and mixing work/life?

Agree with above, "business friendships" are not the same as "personal friendships". The former need boundaries to keep everyone aware that its still a business relationship.

RE: Becoming friends with clients, and mixing work/life?

(OP)
@phamENG Nice story, though that highlights exactly why I'm concerned about it. I want to nip it in the bud before it goes to angry breakup territory and results in losing a client. Though that client sounds manipulative from the beginning, and it might not have worked out anyway. It sounds like you did the bare minimum to keep the friendship part going, which I think is on the right track, though it might even have been too much.

I have my own similar story. There was a client who I shared an office with, who helped me get started. We always helped each other out, all legit stuff. Then one day, he needed me to sign off on some reshoring for a project we were fighting with the building department for months. It was the last step, and his reshoring was incorrect, but he wouldn't leave my office until I made the report he wanted. I was furious with him but did it, said I'd never talk to him again, and the stop work order on the project was released. We're just starting to do business together again after a year. The difference from your story is that I wouldn't have a successful business without this guy, so I took one for the team and I don't regret it. I was furious at the time, but the rational part of me understands that I benefited a lot from the friendship, probably a lot more than what he got. It was a lesson learned for the future, though. I no longer need the type of help he gave me.


@StrucPatholgst The experience you had with the client with the golf outing sounds like some of my clients. Some of them are older, so one would assume they got partying out of their systems when they were younger, but they party and drink like no tomorrow with rich client money. No thanks, I prefer being boring and healthy. And yeah, good advice about not mixing business and friends/family.


@LittleInch I'm the owner of a small company. All the employees are introverts, so I don't have to worry about them being bribed. The client in question is about 25% of the business, which I can't afford to lose, so he definitely holds the power. I'm very wary of the situation phamENG described; it's only a matter of time, I guess. Every developer will be put into a tough spot at some point and will want some license-risking behavior from the engineer.

I do agree that these friendship-business-type relationships have some benefits for me, like when I miss a deadline. I guess it goes both ways. It's just that the downside is license-risking. The best path forward would be to just be better and never miss a deadline or screw up, which is not humanly possible but it's something I aspire to. That way, I won't need the favors. Along the same thinking, I guess it also leads to expanding and having less of a reliance on one rich client (who can just buy a sports car on a whim that I saved up a long time for), though another big client will take his place, so the best thing is to just not put friendship into the mix.

I'm keeping that idea about donating to charity next time this kind of thing happens with the free training.

RE: Becoming friends with clients, and mixing work/life?

(OP)
@TigerGuy I think that's the right way to go about it. Be friendly and affable enough, just don't mix it with business.

@SWComposites Wholeheartedly agree!

RE: Becoming friends with clients, and mixing work/life?

I always thought, going for a beer with a client or a dinner is OK, being regular drinking buddies with them or taking them to the strip club, probably not. Although investment bankers might beg to differ

RE: Becoming friends with clients, and mixing work/life?

Many folks are pretty cavalier when it comes to using the word "friend." There are also many different sales strategies so I wouldn't assume anyone expects quid-pro-quo pricing until they ask for it, in which case I'd be forced to cut ties to remain ethical.

My various employers have always had a seemingly endless flow of suppliers and potential customers coming in from around the globe for unsolicited sales pitches. I often find them pretty educational and recommend juniors attend them whenever possible. Many are straightforward "who we are, what we do" advertising slide decks, others are niche training courses full of the company's branding, capabilities, pics, etc which are often retained/shared internally and help drive the supplier's sales for years. Even universities do this, offering weeks worth of abbreviated coursework/training onsite at local businesses to advertise degree/cert programs directly to professionals. Some of these pitches include snacks or a meal, others don't. None of it ever impacts pricing bc there are real costs and benefits to both sides. Your time sitting through sales pitches costs money, as does the supplier/customer's cost to give them, tho theirs may be tax deductible. Engineering samples are similar, they're a tax-deductible way to get customers interested in your business so despite the slimier sales folks professing that they're a buddy doing you a favor, its just their job.

JMO but if you want to be friends with someone then do so, there's no issue regardless of business relationship. If you dont then I'd recommend using a "busy" family as an excuse to avoid outside social activities.

RE: Becoming friends with clients, and mixing work/life?

2
Something else which came to mind is whether you can or have any company "functions", BBQs, days out, trips to watch football, hockey, basketball, buy a table at the local structural engineers local dinner dance - whatever - and invite said client WITH OPTHER CLIENTS to it. Then you get to even out the favours and invites and also let them know subtly that you have a fair bit of other work streams ( they may or may not know they are 25% of your business).

The charity thing is hopefully quite good as it then makes it clear you're not taking a total "freebie" and that whilst the person isn't being paid, you've promptly matched his favour with a financial one to their charity so you are now "even". It would make it very difficult for them to refuse a donation like that I feel.

And good luck driving the Porsche (which one?). I got something similar a few years ago as a late mid life crisis car and I just love it. Don't need to use / show off the power and handling very often, but when I do it's just great. Not sure I trust myself to take it on a race day but there are very few that can keep pace once I plug it into race mode. Even my wife finally admitted that it "has a lot of go" when she was forced to drive it a lot last year.

Remember - More details = better answers
Also: If you get a response it's polite to respond to it.

RE: Becoming friends with clients, and mixing work/life?

Just because a supplier or client is a friend does not necessarily mean there is a conflict of interest. I have some very close friends that were customers. We are still friends and get together occasionally to play golf, dinner, drinks, etc. after retirement. We genuinely share a lot of common interests.

The key is that we made it very clear up-front that work and protection of each company's interest comes first. There must be a clear and common understanding that you will be fully truthful and honest, and that there is no deviation from this. No hesitation to call either party out when they made a mistake, nor to call in "special favors" when something does go wrong. It can work when there is this mutual understanding. It's not easy and requires a lot of discipline. However, over the long-term, both parties learned a lot from each other during the work times, and still enjoy each other's company after retirement.

RE: Becoming friends with clients, and mixing work/life?

Quote (bcd)

The key is that we made it very clear up-front that work and protection of each company's interest comes first.

When doing personal business with friends/family/acquaintances, I like to say "I respect you too much to not put it all in writing. I insist."

If I owned a company it wouldn't be so casual but I think the same philosophy can apply.

RE: Becoming friends with clients, and mixing work/life?

The thread is an interesting read for me.

I've gotten out of dealing with these issues because my colleagues have always been very busy and closely guard their time. Aside from work, they spend all of their time with family. I'm the same way, so it's a good match. LOL

The closest thing for me would be out-of-town trips where there's time in the evenings for socializing. I'll go out for dinner, but that's about it. I draw the line when a colleague or the group wants to make dinner into an adventure. Some of my colleagues have picked restaurants that are far from the hotel and/or are slow. That burns most of the evening and too much of my energy. For the last few years, when the dinner will not be very close by, I've skipped out.

RE: Becoming friends with clients, and mixing work/life?

(OP)
@geotechguy1 I think going to a client for dinner once is okay. If it becomes a regular thing, it starts crossing the line.


@CWB1 I've turned down every offer that gets on the side of advertising and free comps. I did it twice with an anchor bolt company and an insurance company, got free food and some anchor bolt knowledge for the whole company, but had to deal with follow up calls and emails. It's just not worth the hassle. I agree that if you want to be friends with someone, then there isn't as much conflict of interest, though there's still the concerns phamENG brought up of having to risk the license as a favor.


@LittleInch My business partner made a directive of not having clients get together in party or BBQ type functions. I'm not sure what the reasoning was, but she brings in more than half the business so I listen to it.

About the car (2003 Porsche 911), it makes my daily driving better. It's fantastic, handles supremely well and has lots of power. My wife hates it because it's too small and she can't drive stick, but everyone I meet likes it so it balances out. I was tired of driving a boring SUV everywhere. Glad you got something nice as well! If you don't mind me asking, what mid-life-crisis-remover did you get?


@bcd Agree 100%, that's a great way to go about it. I guess I prefer not even crossing the line with those caveats, to avoid any messy potentially stuff. I'm generally not confrontational and try to make everything go smoothly. I'm about 10-15 years away from retirement myself so it's not a factor at the moment.


@271828 A fellow introvert! I know exactly what you mean about doing things that burn energy.

RE: Becoming friends with clients, and mixing work/life?

I got a Golf R. 300 bhp 4 wheel drive. Very subtle though so no flashy bits.

Goes like stink and sticks to the road like glue.

It takes 5 people and luggage. Can do pretty good fuel economy if you don't toe it all the time. I love it.

Remember - More details = better answers
Also: If you get a response it's polite to respond to it.

RE: Becoming friends with clients, and mixing work/life?

Quote (milkshakelake)

@271828 A fellow introvert! I know exactly what you mean about doing things that burn energy.

LOL. How about this for a horror show: I flew pretty far to get to a project, worked a pretty long day, and then my colleague wanted to go to a specific restaurant. We started driving at about 6 pm, had a hard time finding it, and ended up eating from about 8:30 to 10 pm as I recall. Got back to the hotel at 10:30-11. Flew out early the next morning. I was so tired I felt like I would fall over. Without the dinner adventure, the day would've been fairly normal and no big deal.

Thankfully, my long term colleagues don't take offense when I skip dinner, etc. I've had many of these friends for 25-30 years.

RE: Becoming friends with clients, and mixing work/life?

Most state statutes require PEs to associate with companies of good reputation. It seems prudent to do business with others that have high ethical standards, as well as moral standards. Eliminates lots of problems.

My past employers frowned upon too much fraternization with sales people or engineering firms. Lunches, dinners, and golf outings were OK but nothing more unless you had approval from management. They required approval of anything over $25 in value. They trained all of us on ethics and business law annually. Expectations were very clear. And, it's easy to see how things can go sideways quickly.

Some of the sales people have told me that it's very aggravating to have this quid pro quo stuff going on. Some engineers are quite pushy about it and want expensive trips for two or they will take their business elsewhere.

Pamela K. Quillin, P.E.
Quillin Engineering, LLC
NSPE-CO, Central Chapter
Dinner program: http://nspe-co.org/events.php

RE: Becoming friends with clients, and mixing work/life?

(OP)
@LittleInch Nice! I've driven something similar before (automatic 2011 R model, little less HP) and it hauls. My car does 13 MPG, so my fuel economy is more like a fuel crisis, but I only count the smiles per gallon.

@271828 Oof, it's one of those days. Yeah, that sounds draining. I need like 8-9 hours of sleep or I'll be almost non-functional.

@lacajun That sounds like a good policy. Treating the employees of another company nicely is a good business strategy in terms of sales, but it's definitely not in the employees' company's best interests. Thanks for sharing that; it seems like I'm on the right path about thinking about this.

RE: Becoming friends with clients, and mixing work/life?

My old Z-28 (LS6, 454 engine) used to get 8mpg in the city and about 13 on the highway... different times... gas was about $.30 per gallon...

-----*****-----
So strange to see the singularity approaching while the entire planet is rapidly turning into a hellscape. -John Coates

-Dik

RE: Becoming friends with clients, and mixing work/life?

(OP)
I've gotten as much out of this thread that I needed, so I'm okay with discussing cars.

So dik, I would have loved to drive your car. I'm younger so I used to have a 1988 Toyota MR2 and a 1988 Jaguar XJ6. Those things were not fast by modern standards, but they were really interesting to drive. Very analog. You could see the wire connected to the gas pedal that made the engine rev up. It's something lost with cars these days. I upgraded to a 1993 Honda Accord automatic, and that thing was a nightmare...slow and unresponsive. I could never go back to "friendly" cars at that point.

RE: Becoming friends with clients, and mixing work/life?

I know an engineer that often had it up over 150mph... the LS6 engine wasn't stock for the Camero... and had to be ordered special.

When I first got the car, tore the engine apart, cleaned and prepped it, and re-built it properly. Balanced the engine in the engineering lab at the U of M.
I Did the same with my Cooper Ss. Not surprising, a lot of the quality speed parts (and inexpensive) were manufactured by Chev... they were into stock car racing so a lot of the good stuff was 'off the shelf'. My dad came by about a week later and was surprised to find my engine parts all over my kitchen floor.

-----*****-----
So strange to see the singularity approaching while the entire planet is rapidly turning into a hellscape. -John Coates

-Dik

RE: Becoming friends with clients, and mixing work/life?

(OP)
My goodness, I'd never touch an engine. It might blow up when I reassembled it.

RE: Becoming friends with clients, and mixing work/life?

Well, they're supposed to blow up! Quickly, repeatedly, and at a certain pace...

RE: Becoming friends with clients, and mixing work/life?

Mine don't blow up until I'm road testing them AFTER I reassemble them, usually when I'm a few miles from home...elephant2...and then I walk my self to find help.

RE: Becoming friends with clients, and mixing work/life?

2

Quote (TigerGuy)

...and then I walk my self to find help.

A folding e-bike in the back seat could save you a few steps.

RE: Becoming friends with clients, and mixing work/life?

You need to share this with your boss , declare potential conflict of interest , so that you will not have problems during audits.

RE: Becoming friends with clients, and mixing work/life?

(OP)
@rQuestionEngineering I am the boss, thus the quandary. But I've figured it out thanks to the comments.

RE: Becoming friends with clients, and mixing work/life?

Clients are not your friends, business partners are not your friends, consultants are not your friends. These are all transactional relationships. Collegiality, trust, honesty are all appropriate, but when a legal dispute arises, you'll know for sure that they aren't your friends. Take it from someone who has the scars to prove it.

RE: Becoming friends with clients, and mixing work/life?

(OP)
@JMASE Agreed, I do keep business relationships at a distance.

Since this thread is back from the dead, quick update is that I've become closer friends with the client who bought the same car as me. He's actually quite smart and we're going into a building development together, outside of engineering. I see some dollar signs on the horizon. So we're hanging out more. I just have to keep him at an arm's length and make sure it never gets into close friendship territory. Besides that, I'm not hanging out with anyone involved in business.

RE: Becoming friends with clients, and mixing work/life?

I should have added: Employees are not your friends either.

RE: Becoming friends with clients, and mixing work/life?

Being in a semi-nomadic profession that is largely based-on tribal-knowledge has me honestly surprised by a few attitudes. IME folks who refuse colleagues' friendship usually dont last more than a few years in engineering bc they either fail to progress technically or find themselves miserably "alone" in a strange city. I've always felt fortunate that so many colleagues opened their lives/homes/families to me and mine. I wouldn't have half the engineering, business, or industry knowledge if not for after-hours discussions. I wouldn't have had half the career or income if friends hadn't pointed me toward new opportunities, away from trouble, and helped me get recruited. My family wouldn't be nearly as happy if friends hadn't received us in new cities with welcome parties and introductions to the local area. I wouldn't have nearly as much fun if I had to actively search for other introverts with similar interests and hobbies, but thankfully colleagues who became friends are constantly expanding my network and the fun usually finds me. IMO its a surprisingly small profession and well-worth getting to know beyond the office limits.

RE: Becoming friends with clients, and mixing work/life?

CWB1,

See the Engrg Practices thread where a PE took a complaint. The American business mindset cultivates a siege mentality that encourages engineers to cast stones at one another above and beyond their normal professional and ethical duties/requirements. Litigation is the great starvation of relationships. It makes for a barren industry. It is what it is, but it's a curse of the business and litigation reality. Bravo to those who still buck that trend to be generous, courteous, and friendly.

RE: Becoming friends with clients, and mixing work/life?

(OP)
@CWB1 I have lots and lots of industry contacts and relationships, but not many friendships. I think there's a line in the sand there for me. But I'm glad it works out for you. I think we have different paths, both of which can potentially work. Your viewpoint is a valuable counterpoint to almost every other comment here.

I'm also an introvert, and almost every engineer and architect I met is introverted. It might not necessarily be true or it might be my circle of close contacts; it's just my own observation. I wonder if something about being in an industry full of introverts leads to my mentality and the other comments here that one shouldn't mix work and friendships. I just realized that the "problematic" people I mentioned in my original comment are all huge extroverts. Maybe it just drains my energy, and I don't want to deal with it.

RE: Becoming friends with clients, and mixing work/life?

I agree that litigation and ruthless people are risks worth preparing for but disagree on the overall state of the profession.

From a simple statistical standpoint its worth remembering that PEs arent a good representation of the profession stateside bc they're a small subset. Owners of small engineering firms are an even smaller subset and NSPE members probably the smallest subset worth mentioning. In standard risk terms, if we encounter legal issues the majority of engineers face high severity but an extremely low frequency of occurrence so there's effectively no risk unless we do something extremely dumb. Most face more risk of criminal penalties than civil bc so much of our work falls under laws governing import/export, health&safety, environmental, intellectual property protection, insider trading, etc...and the fact that employers have more assets to sue for. Small business owners arguably face the opposite, higher risk of civil than criminal penalties bc there's nobody else to sue coupled with the fact that they're not particularly heavily regulated (local&state vs federal is a bit of a joke IMHO). In either case, I've often heard and believe that if you face regular legal issues and aren't wealthy you should seek another line of work.

Ruthless folks are another matter entirely, unavoidable but thankfully also a small minority. Like legal issues they make for great water-cooler/forum gossip but I dont see them having a particularly large impact on anybody's career long-term. I've had several patents and other work "stolen" by other engineers and even one executive but in the scheme of my career its an annoyance at best, a few less achievements on a solid resume.

JMO but I wouldn't pass on a friendship simply bc of a business relationship nor would I allow that friendship to affect business. If it does then its time to reevaluate who your friends are.

milkshake, understood and largely agreed. I'm not trying to argue for being friends with everybody, just countering statements that friends and business can't mix.

RE: Becoming friends with clients, and mixing work/life?

Have any of you folks ever done business in asia/China?

Thats where the art of friendship, aquaintance-ship, personability, and its relation to business is a complex woven fabric that need be handled with the utmost grace.

In the west, maneuvering business and personal matters is a cake walk relatively speaking. I enjoy the friendship aspect, and let it flow naturally. That said, if someone is forcing themselves on you (a non important client who you don't gel with naturally, trying too hard to be friends), then ice things up a bit.

And a "friend" asking you to sign off on something dodgy, isnt a friend. thats not rocket science

RE: Becoming friends with clients, and mixing work/life?

(OP)
@NorthCivil I have some Chinese clients (immigrated from mainland) and they throw expensive parties and dinners like no tomorrow. I haven't yet had the situation where they want to be actual friends, but they do require extra attention and time outside of work (which I just treat as work). They also drink like fish and expect everyone to do as well. They genuinely don't understand the concept that I don't like alcohol, no matter how many times I explain it. It's like some kind of offense to them. So I just nurse a whiskey so I don't sour the relationship too much. I imagine if I were actually doing business in China, the no-drinking thing would be a real, quantifiable deterrent to how far I'd get in business. I've heard of a similar culture in Korea and Japan.

RE: Becoming friends with clients, and mixing work/life?

@Milkshake

yes, "not drinking", that doesnt fly in most asian business circles. At least if you have any desire for building any sort of relationship. I've heard its kind of changing, a bit, with the younger generation.

I reckon you would be better not to attend the function at all, than to attend and not drink. Or attend, have a quick drink, and then shoot off early for some "family" issue.

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