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Conducting Business in Thailand

Some Helpful Advice for Our Clients

Thailand has long been a favorite destination, not just for tourists, but for businesses looking to become established in Asia. As the largest Buddhist country in the world and the only country in the region to never have been colonized, the cultural norms are very different than many Western countries. These 10 tips should help you make sure you don't commit any faux pas and establish a successful working relationship with the wonderful people of Thailand.

10 Tips for Conducting Business in Thailand:

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  1. Closing the Deal - Business deals are settled through a series of meetings and building relationships rather than a hard sell often seen in the West. Financial details of the sale should be the last thing discussed before an agreement is reached.
  2. Losing Face - Under no circumstance should you yell at, visibly become angry at, or belittle a Thai person. This type of management style has been idolized by the likes of Steve Jobs, but it is completely unacceptable in Thailand. This causes a loss of face on your part, and it can be a long time before that person will forgive you.
  3. Dress Code - Don't be fooled by the casual dress of tourists at Thailand's famous beaches. In Thailand, as in most of Asia, dressing respectfully and politely is essential toward keeping face and letting people know you are serious. While it is a very warm climate, a suit and tie (for men) and a polite dress (for women) are often appropriate when meeting with senior executives. This is especially true when conducting business in the capital city of Bangkok.
  4. Traffic - Getting around Bangkok by car is notoriously difficult, and it can literally take hours to get from one part of Bangkok to the other. To avoid being late for a meeting and losing face, learn about the Skytrain and Subway systems.
  5. English - English is the language of the elite in Thailand. Most senior executives you meet will speak English. However, staff may speak only little or no English, because Thai is a very different language. Please be patient with the language barrier, and consider talking with AsiaPAC Consulting if you are in need of an interpreter for certain situations. You should also consider learning Thai, as the Thai people are appreciative of foreigners who try to learn the language.
  6. Individual Recognition - Recognizing people who have made outstanding achievements is not as important in Thailand as it is in Western countries. Thais place more value on family and community than the individual. Furthermore, publicly recognizing junior team members may cause some embarrassment on their part. Be cautious of this fact when you manage your team.
  7. Greeng Jai - Greeng Jai is a Thai word which literally translates to “scared heart.” It is a difficult concept to understand from a Western perspective, but it can be understood by observing the actions of many Thais in the workplace. To save face, many Thais do not alert their supervisors when a problem exists, even if it is very serious. This can present a challenge for management who need to address the root cause of issues in the work environment. Often when there is a problem, you will have to find out about it yourself.
  8. Thais Supervising Thais - While Thailand is very welcoming to foreigners, expatriate managers often find it challenging to directly supervise their Thai staff. This is due to a number of factors including cultural misunderstandings and language barriers. Working with senior Thai personnel who have been educated abroad and travel extensively is typically not an issue. However, supervising technicians and staff can be a frustrating experience. Contact AsiaPAC Consulting so we can help you find a qualified Thai manager that can deal with front-line staff directly.
  9. The Importance of Being Polite - The Thais are part of a very modest and pleasant culture that has a deep respect for their parents and ancestors, which is a value deeply ingrained in the Buddhist religion. To this end, it should be noted that you should be especially polite to your elders. Criticism of senior personnel who are older than you (even if it is constructive) is something that is seriously frowned upon and will most certainly cause you to lose face. Being polite in general is also a good trait to posses. Never talk loudly on your cellphone in public, hold the door open for women, and don't become visibly upset in the chaotic streets of Bangkok. You will win praise from your Thai colleagues with comments such as "Farang Suphaap", which means “What a polite foreigner!”
  10. Sanook - Sanook is a Thai word that literally means “fun”, even at the work. You should strive to establish a company culture that is not so overbearing and rigid people have to view the workplace as a miserable experience.

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