The Office Chicken Dance

By Pete Brunoehler

By Pete Brunoehler

With October just around the corner, and since Octoberfest celebrations actually begin in mid-September, this column may prove quite useful – both during and after office hours!

Depending on a variety of factors, including how long your company has been in Malaysia, how foreign (novel) your business approach is, the ease of knowledge transfer in your industry, etc., you may be attempting to teach skills and execute initiatives that are new, strange, and challenging to impart to your Malaysian team. I’ve been there.

One of the companies that I led here had an excellent and patented system of selling, successfully used globally, but with components and requirements that were very different from those normally taught and practiced locally. As such, since we hired experienced salespeople, we had to force changes in their selling style. This was the equivalent of telling a group of veteran golfers that they needed to completely modify their swing. Change like this – even when the subject is willing to try – begins as unnatural, uncomfortable, and awkward; and effectiveness initially suffers vs the old way. However, with repetition and practice, over time it became extremely effective with dramatically improved results. Here’s the crazy part: As curious as it may sound, it was much easier to implement such habit changes here in Malaysia (where employees often believe ‘the company knows best’) than in Western countries (where the new habits were not so novel), because this ‘one way’ approach is much like the Malaysian education system: Teacher teaches and directs, student listens and follows. No questions asked. Not a very democratic process, especially up front. However, sometimes that’s the best way. If what you’re teaching is quite novel, or a significant departure from the norm, simply memorising then regurgitating is easier, faster, and more effective – and proficiency will come much sooner. There’s no debate with training subjects (as you’d have in the West) about this being ‘the right way’, there’s no discussion of ‘how I sold at my last job’; there’s just one way – this way – as the starting point.

A critical part of this successful model was the extensive use of role plays and mimicking when teaching these new skills. Especially when working with an audience that is not used to interrupting or questioning when they don’t understand, it’s mandatory to have them show you what you showed them, to ensure knowledge and skills transfer. Once over the initial discomfort that role plays in Malaysia inevitably entail, they are an excellent way to teach and gauge learning. Teach, role play, re-explain, then role play some more.

As a final note and to be consistent with an earlier column on localising your selling approach according to the way buyers buy: When you have a selling system such as I illustrated above, you’ll benefit from (1) using these one-way, no-questions-asked techniques upfront, then you’ll (2) tweak, localise, and customise.


1. Think back to when you first performed the ‘chicken dance’ – assuming you have done so. You learned the dance by watching it, then doing it repeatedly, correct? You didn’t debate the design and development, you learned by watching and listening, doing it yourself, repeating it until you had it memorised.

2. So the best way to teach radically different, new skills in Malaysia is with a combination of initial explanation, then memorisation and reinforcement via roleplays. This is efficient, and at least initially offers no time for democracy or dialogue; it’s a one-way street.

3. Eventually, successful employees with a good understanding of the basics will adapt, personalise, and customise the skills they’ve been taught, enabling their own further success. But only later should that be allowed, once those basics are firmly grasped.

4. Wait for the music to begin. Pinch your fingers and thumbs together in front of your chest four times. Flap your arms four times. Wiggle side to side four times while getting your backside as close to the ground as you can. Clap four times. Repeat these steps until you hear the swing-like music. If you’re still confused, just visit

In conclusion, there’s a reason why Asian countries and students consistently perform well when test-taking: it’s largely due to the way that they’re taught and the way they learn. Start your teaching one-way, with rote memorisation, supplementing with role plays, localise the techniques later, and you’ll enjoy successful results.