Doing Business with Thais? Stop Offending Everyone!

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Doing Business with Thais? Stop Offending Everyone!

Whether you’ve been in Thailand for years or are new to the country, you may often find yourself getting funny looks or a cold feeling from some of your Thai colleagues or business contacts. You might even wonder what, exactly, you have done to offend them.

Though Thais are very polite and would never be as bold as to say what you have done wrong, they will remember your mistakes. Instead of waiting to put your foot in your mouth, read these tips about how to work happily – and profitably – with Thai business contacts.

Be Less Direct

You might be used to business terms such as “keeping accountable” and ”taking responsibility.” In Thailand, business relationships are rarely so straightforward. It’s very bad form to directly blame a colleague – even if they have obviously made a mistake. This would lead them to losing face (see section below) which, to them , is just about the worst thing that could happen.

You won’t make any fans by blaming a colleague and you will most likely make an enemy for the duration of your business relationship.

This is reported to be the hardest part of the culture to learn for business people wishing to work in Thailand.

Don’t Trash Talk the Boss

Unlike in the West, commiserating over how mean/unfair/poor-tempered or cheap your boss is won’t win you any popularity contests in a Thai office.

Much like speaking about their King, Thais often speak of their boss with reverence. After all, this is the person that hired them and pays their salary.

Since Thai culture teaches children and students to obey without question, they often grow up to treat their bosses in the same fashion. Even if it makes no sense at all, a manager’s declaration will rarely, if ever, be challenged by a worker.

Slippers in Offices

Take them when they are offered. Even if you are wearing holey socks, even if you don’t want to, even if they are pink plastic and shaped like a teddy bear head. Just take them, it will make life easier for everyone.

Indoor slippers are such an ingrained part of Asian culture. You can’t change it, just go with it.

Food Sharing

Another way to come off as a clueless foreigner is to rarely take lunch with your colleagues and – when you do – to insist on having one dish all to yourself.

Thais relish sharing many dishes and it’s a bonding experience deciding what to order and which concoction  is the most delicious. If you order one dish for yourself and insist that no one share it, you will mark yourself as not a part of the group.

In the long run, this will make it harder to be seen as part of the team or to make headway on initiatives in the office. It sounds like a small thing but it could end up costing you your colleagues’ support.

Team Building Activities and Colleague Outings

Team activities can range from Friday night meals together to sports days to taking a trip together to the Thai islands. They are very important to Thai workers. These outings are so important to Thai business culture that Thais will often ask about them in their company interviews.

For them, it’s not only a fun perk but a guarantee that they will be able to bond with their colleagues outside of the office.

Westerners may not enjoy such activities but, for the sake of business, it’s best to attend as many of them as you can handle. From scavenger hunts to karaoke evenings – you will be getting lots of colleague invites.

Keeping Face and Temper

With Thai colleagues, the worst thing you can do is to lose your temper in public. To Thais, this shows that you have a poor upbringing or little control of yourself.

This loss of face is not limited to business meetings or performance reviews however. It extends to how you act anytime you are with a colleague. Be careful about becoming angry with a taxi driver who takes a wrong turn or being rude to someone that steps on your foot on the sidewalk.

Keep your voice quiet and your words sweet – even if your meaning is much different – when working with Thai business contacts.

Losing face is related to, not only to how you act, but allowing others to keep their face as well.

Embarrassing someone in public is a way to make them lose face. This could come from teasing too sharply, pointing out their mistakes or voicing things they have done wrong. Always do this carefully to avoid the other person losing face and so that you don’t come off as an oaf to everyone around you.

Need more advice on business in Thailand? Call the experts at Silk Legal. We can offer advice on life in Thailand and be your one-stop business law partner working with company formation, taxes, investments, business visas, work permits, litigation and more.


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