FOREIGNERS often think we, Filipinos, are voracious eaters – something that is, at times, interpreted as a cultural oddity. Many of us eat five times a day, excluding the midnight snack. It appears like we can’t control our appetite, even during a time of mourning (it wouldn’t be unusual to see people at a funeral wake eating heartily, sometimes even hot steamed rice with dinuguan, or pork blood stew, and bopis, or sautéed animal internal organs, unmindful of the circumstances of the gathering).
We eat even when we’re not really hungry. And worse, even when one has just had a late breakfast, something alerts his consciousness that it’s time to eat again around noontime. We seem unable to resist the appeal of food laid out nicely on the table. Even when we’re feeling full after a buffet meal, we would respond to the temptation of that luscious-looking chocolate cake – good to down with a hot cup of coffee or a chilled Diet Coke.
Food is an important source of comfort for some people who are “in distress,” either emotionally or professionally. Go on and read about why people eat to advance their career. Eating and drinking may provide a temporary escape for people trying to avoid an unpleasant incident in the office, at home or elsewhere. This phenomenon may be due to “classical conditioning,” as first described by Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov (1849-1936).
Psychology author and educator Kendra Cherry, writing for Verywell.com, defines Pavlov’s classical conditioning (aka, respondent conditioning) as “a learning process that occurs through associations between an environmental stimulus and a naturally occurring stimulus.” Pavlov discovered this in his studies on dogs that “salivated naturally upon the presentation of food.” However, he also noted that the animals began to salivate whenever they saw the white lab coat of an experimental assistant. It was through this observation that Pavlov discovered that by associating the presentation of food with the lab assistant, a conditioned response occurred.”
An everyday classical conditioning is happening around us. When you’re walking inside a mall, you’ll also feel hungry when you see posters or visuals (like plastic food) in Japanese restaurants. This physiological phenomenon is due to classical conditioning, and the visuals tend to attract people who are called “externals” because of their focus on the physical features of displayed food, rather than satisfy their “internal” hunger.
And so, how can eating be an important business strategy? It’s a classical conditioning excuse for people to try
to get something from another. The one who initiated the invite may have something to offer – either a sales proposition, a business partnership, or simply to get some ideas, if not to revive and perpetuate a professional work relationship.
But there’s no such thing as a free lunch (or dinner). Whatever food, drink, ball pens, product samples or services are handed out, they must be paid for by someone – like a sponsor or a group of sponsors. It means, you don’t get something for nothing, even if you’re a sucker for attending “free” seminars, even if the organizer overcharges you for the so-called “minimal” fee for the venue rentals, taxes and handling.
The word “free” has a classical conditioning effect on you.
With “free lunch” or whatever freebies, organizations and their marketing departments know how to entice customers by employing different types of tricks – such as using cartoon characters and entertainment personalities when they introduce a variety of food items, like those found in Nestle’s cereals and McDonald’s kiddie meals, among many examples. For these young customers, it’s really difficult to resist the call of Sponge Bob, Shrek and Scooby Doo strategically placed on the packaging or inside the boxes of biscuits and gummy fruit snacks, for instance.
Even adults may find themselves in similar classical conditioning situations. If you would want to maintain sexy and healthy bodies such as those of Pia Wurtzback and Luis Manzano, you’d choose Century Tuna as part of your regular diet.
Therefore, if you’re invited to a free lunch or dinner, don’t expect the person who invited you to be your best buddy for life. He has his own classical conditioning agenda to cover. Of course, there are exceptions, and you must be able to determine which invitations to accept and to decline. Don’t accept invitations to simply binge; this is where you may offer the best possible excuse. Or let him come to your office to discuss his proposition or whatever-he’s-got.
But don’t miss out on opportunities that may not come your way again next time.
Don’t be afraid to say “no” but make it very convincing. Giving him the sound of silence or pretend you didn’t receive the invite is the height of insincerity. If you can’t turn down an invite, it’s better to reciprocate right away by offering to host the next round toward a long-lasting, mutually profitable, professional work relationship.
Whatever it takes, there are at least three unmistakable reasons for eating good food with people. It’s like shooting three birds with one stone: We are motivated to eat because of hunger; to enjoy the company of people, aware of the social demands that come with that; and of course, to discover hidden professional opportunities that await us, somewhere.
After all, who would want to eat alone?
Rey Elbo is a business consultant on human resources and total quality management as a fused interest. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter for his random thoughts on Elbonomics.