There I was sitting across the table from a marketing manager and an editor for The National enjoying a four star lunch. From the moment I received the invitation, I knew it was a chance at valuable networking and world class food. What I didn’t know is by merely being in the room with this group of people, I’d be forced out of my comfort zone and leave with a new skill. You can train your marketing skills to level up  you can do to start improving your marketing skills.

The Maitre d’ placed bowls of beautifully prepared seabass on the table. As he explained the dish, several diners helped themselves to some. I was still finishing a bowl of miso soup and taking in the gorgeous view. When I was done, a waiter whisked my bowl and spoon away leaving only a plate and the pair of chopsticks resting above it. Finally, I was ready to have a slice of seabass. Within three seconds, I scanned my place setting for a fork, and was shaken by the realization that I was seated in a Japanese restaurant where the custom is to eat with chopsticks. Sushi has just recently become a staple in my diet and although it’s sad and embarrassing to admit, I have become accustomed to eating it with a fork and dare I say it…my fingers. Now, don’t get it twisted. This doesn’t mean that I scoop sliced salmon and rice into the palm of my hand and mush it into my mouth. I have more class than that. I only eat sushi rolls, like shrimp tempura, with my fingers and use a fork for everything else. This wasn’t a huge deal though. All I needed to do was request a fork, right?</a>

When dining and socializing up, it’s appropriate to temper your behavior to that of the crowd. I needed to gauge how asking for a fork might be perceived before doing it. I eased forward as if I were carefully examining the food in front of me, only to sneak a peek at the other diners. As my gaze drifted from one person to another, all I could see were hands skillfully managing chopsticks. I sat back in my chair, took a deep breath and reached for my chopsticks. Without hesitation, I separated them and took a moment to position them comfortably between my fingers. Unknown to anyone else at the table, I was stressed out. I was managing a “watch and learn” session as my neighbor used his chopsticks while keeping up with the conversation and remaining engaged. I couldn’t panic, avoid eating exquisite food or sit there hungry. I couldn’t ask for help. How would that look? And, I certainly couldn’t ask for a fork. I couldn’t allow myself to be that girl; the one who’s regarded as uncultured or uneducated. It’s possible that my counterparts would have thought differently, but I couldn’t take that chance. I saw my friend Paul, use his chopsticks to fold a strip of seabass before picking it up and placing it into his mouth. That was my first lesson. I duplicated his technique with success. My serving wasn’t folded as neatly as his, nor was I as cerebral using the chopsticks, but I fed myself with them successfully. That was my strategy for the remainder of lunch – to watch, learn and mimic. After a few turns at it, I was picking up food effortlessly. There were two drops; one was an oddly cut portion of black cod and the other a stalk of asparagus. I wasn’t the only one though. There were a couple others in my good company who experienced a mishap or two.

I left lunch feeling accomplished and best of all, full. The food was amazing and the company was even better. We all engaged in the usual Q & A that happens at events like this; what’s your name, what do you do and where are you from? Everyone collected business cards or gave some away or followed new people on Twitter but I emerged with much more than that. I left with a new skill; the ability to use chopsticks. Now to some, this may seem like such a small feat but the principle here is what matters most. I was transformed by the collective skill of a group of people that I respect and admire. Because I wanted to earn their respect and admiration too, I assimilated.  This  evolution occurs whenever there is a majority and a minority. People have a natural desire to fit in.  That’s no indictment on your confidence or self worth. That’s just how it is. This experience made me more aware of the circles I’m trying to fit into and I am glad that I seek and build relationships with people who make me better. My goal is to always emerge from the crowd smarter, sharper, happier…better.