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My previous employer invited me to have dinner with him. Unexpectedly (by me), he was also inviting the chief police of the area to have dinner with us. After we got ourselves introduced, my ex-boss need to look for things for a while, leaving me alone in the table with the chief.

As I'm not from the area he's taking care for, I was unable to start any conversation with him at all. Part of this was because I always get nervous when I meet someone I regard as an important person, especially in a one-on-one situation. What a waste, if I was even a bit braver, I might have gained an important connection.

We ended up playing with our phones until my ex-boss came back. Not a single word between us, at least until I managed to mention that my friend, an employee, like police and military stuff to my ex-boss (not directly to the chief).

The dinner was set casually, to talk about a serious issue (some work stuff that I need to look for him as a favor), and a few small issues (which have no connection to me whatsoever). The serious issue ended up not being discussed after all.

The chief also dressed casually, and the situation is pretty much very casual. I really regret that I missed the chance to personally introduce myself and gain his contact, albeit in a very brief moment.

So, how can I start a conversation with the chief? This is the first time we met, and I'm not very familiar with the area he's taking care. I don't even know what the topic I should talk about!

This is in Indonesia, and specifically in Javanese culture. I'm looking for answers considering Asian people perspective.

  • Well, he's the chief police, and I'm just no one (no achievement, yet), so of course I'm nervous sitting in the same table as he is. At that time, I thought of getting a new connection with an important person, but I couldn't find any topic at all (and I thought he won't want to be disturbed by small talk) – Vylix Oct 3 '17 at 1:12
5

I am writing as an Asian-American, so I know something about "Asian." although nothing about "Javanese."

I disagree with another poster who advised talking about "current events." Those, and a related matter, politics, are likely to be controversial (unless you are talking, perhaps, about who won Miss Indonesia).

Speaking of "Miss Indonesia," a safer topic is people. The man may have ideologies and views different from yours, but he is a human being after all.

One possible conversation topic is the one thing you have in common getting to know your boss. (Be complimentary when you do this: "My boss taught me...") You might, instead, want you mention your parents, especially anything they might have said to you about obeying the law. Authority figures are a fairly good topic since he is one, and almost certainly takes pride in that.

As a man, I might say, "I once considered pursuing a career in police work until I realized I didn't have the necessary physical aptitude." (This was actually true.) If you are a woman, you might substitute a male relative as someone who looks up to police chiefs.

  • 1
    I find that the topic about my ex-boss is highly appropriate, since he is the only common point with the chief that I know about. The police career might also work, too! Thank you! – Vylix Aug 13 '17 at 3:44
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When you don't know anything about a person, you have a conversation with them by asking them things:

How many people work for you?

How long have you been in the police force?

What is it like being a police chief? What is the best thing about your job?

Or if you prefer, you can ask more personal questions:

Do you live near here?

I visited X recently, have you ever been there?

This [item being eaten or drunk] is really good. How is yours?

If you feel that questions are "nosy" then try telling the person you're impressed by them.

Wow, Chief of Police, that is impressive, I was not expecting to meet such an important person tonight.

Or that they know things you don't

I really don't know anything about [your area] but I'm interested in it. What can you tell me about it?

A senior person can naturally expect to carry most of the burden of conversation with a younger person. You can give a little prompt that should get the impressive person to talk quite a lot, and you can listen attentively and say "oh really? that's fascinating" and such from time to time. Of course, this particular person might not be a "big talker" or might be tired from a long day and not feel like talking. But questions and prompts generally work to get the senior person to talk, letting the junior person relax a little and just listen. That should also leave you feeling less nervous.

1

I am from the USA. During 2008, I spent maybe a total of 18 hours in Malaysia over 4 days. During my time there, I mostly visited the Berjaya Times Square shopping centre and other locales nearby.
I have no exemplary tales of my experience there; so, I will summarize: I got the sense that it was rather cosmopolitan; it seemed to me like New York City but with a somewhat different ethnic hue. Different, but superficially. That could be a result of the fact that people are people, and that cultural differences are thinner than the kernels of personality, but more likely it means that I simply was not exposed to enough there to notice the nuances. Small differences can have magnified effects.
The Chinese heritage was especially evident in the places I visited.
The protocols I recommend, therefore, are generalized.

I was an E5 during the final third of my time in the United States Navy.
When dealing with those higher in the chain of command, whether in mine or another — chief petty officers, the few warrant officers, or even the CO and the XO, I was never intimidated by their position of command or by their achievements. I wasn't disobedient nor flippant, but I respected leadership and the way they handled things about them, and not their collar devices or shoulder patch.
Oh, I also once talked with the MCPON, and quite casually. I almost forgot that one; while I was studying in the compartment where my department held much of their out–of–plant training and turn–overs, she asked me some question and I answered her — I don't remember exactly how it went. I was courteous, but no more so than I'd be to anyone else, and certainly not servile or nervous. She seemed to be pleased enough with my helpfulness — I think she was asking for directions to someone's desk. Probably nothing like your situation, actually.

Enough with me. So, from your response to my comment, it seems to me that your concern is one of unequal footing: you believe that you have nothing to show a person like the local chief of police with which to gain their attentions or approval.

Let us say that it doesn't matter what you've accomplished in your lifetime.
Why? Because you are interested in opening a dialogue with someone else. As you are the one initiating the conversation, why don't you ask some amiable questions on the sorts of things that other person has done?

Examples

  • any stories he would be willing to share
    Depending on whether he sees you as a junior or as a peer, you can proceed on this one with either a eager tact or a chummy one.
    For you, it would be the ‘eager’ one.
    Probably not yet the best time to ask concerning the ones that escaped, or for whether he has any arch nemeses — save those for later, if at all, — but you can ask for some of his most thrilling or most comical stories. Even if you come off as seeming naïve, he will probably not mind the attention. If he does: oh, well.
  • begin talking on subjects in which he is likely to share some interest
    Do not talk about things which do not interest you — it reeks of dishonesty, and it seems like you are not attempting to gain his favor. It is one thing to entertain a topic which another person enjoys simply to foster the social environment; feigning interest and knowledge is usually not advisable.
    You can begin asking him outright whether he likes certain things, but hesitate to ask the more open ‘What do you like?’ Moving along …
  • tell him of your pertinent aspirations
    This one is probably the real cincher. Yes, gaining or attempting to gain a rapport with someone in his position is probably socially beneficial to you, but unless his experiences, advices, or favor are useful to you, it probably does not matter all that much. Do you want to pursue the life of a police officer, or not?
    If he sees you as enough of a junior, he probably does not expect you to have so many achievements as he. Even if you are in your thirties, that doesn't mean that you are solidly on a career for the remainder of your life. Indeed, you could begin the conversation like that — of course, keep in mind that he might ask you the sorts of things you have done by way of seeking to assure you that you've achieved some things, even if not your hopes to becoming a police officer. If you are not comfortable going down that path in the conversation, then maybe don't bring it up.
  • tell him your thoughts on some of his more notable achievements or accomplishments, or similar words and deeds
    If you pursue this route, you want to be candid but not presumptuous: do not be too certain that you know best, but phrase your comments as befits your certainty in their veracity.
    If this is the sort of thing that would be viable, then you would not need me to mention it: you would be kicking yourself for being too nervous to either bring it up or even think of it.
    I would give a word of warning: if he is not the sort of person who receives criticism well, then he might tend to veer away from you and any chance of such conversation — whether or not you are actually venturing comments on things which you think he should have done or not done,
  • I haven't been to Malaysia, so I wouldn't know if the culture fits, but I think Malaysia is culturally more similar to us than Philippines, so I will be very interested if you add about Malaysia. I can relate with the 1, 2, 3, but not 4, as I absolutely know nothing about him. I think the first one will be my best bet when meeting with important person. – Vylix Oct 3 '17 at 9:26

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