Every part of the world has its own culture, with characteristics that make it unique. The culture in Thailand is an excellent example, with plenty of habits and idiosyncrasies that distinguish it from other cultures around the world.
Sometimes, foreign people just don’t take the time to try and learn about other cultures before jumping in to live with them or work alongside them. This friction between worldviews and expectations is where conflict is most likely to begin. But don’t fret – as long as you’re making an effort, you’re likely to do well, as the cultural guidelines are really simple to follow.
Thai people have their own rules, which are guided by norms and traditions. Having a basic knowledge of these expectations can help you go a long way with Thai people.
This quick introductory guide will focus on building relationships with Thai people, in a business context.
Thailand has a group-oriented culture. Individual desires are seen as less important than the sense of belonging in a group, and maintaining harmony amongst its members. Relationships should be built over time, as trust plays an integral role in the building process. It’s important to keep in mind that Thai people prefer to do business with those they know and respect. They also prefer to have an established relationship, founded on bonds between the individuals, before closing deals. Make sure your counterparts are comfortable with you before you proceed to business discussions.
Thai relationships focus on familiarity, respect, and personal trust. These factors require time to establish, so it is worth taking the time to do so. Business relationships exist between people, and not necessarily between companies. Even after you have won over the local business partner’s friendship and trust, they may not necessarily trust others from your company. Changing key contacts can require the relationship-building process to start over again – even ending the negotiation process in extreme cases.
‘Saving face’ is critical. Anything that can be interpreted as causing embarrassment to another person, or openly criticizing them can be detrimental to a negotiation. Social standing depends on the ability of a person to control their emotions and remain friendly. Thais try their best to be friendly, polite, and keep a positive attitude. Show respect, keep your emotions in check, and you’ll be welcomed into the group.
The respect enjoyed by an individual generally depends on their age and rank. Titles are very important in Thai culture.
Respect towards an individual can be presented in certain ways. Examples are:
- Lowering your head while greeting them
- Slightly lowering your body when talking and walking past them
- Sitting down at a lower level
- Talking to them in a polite way
- Listening and giving them all of your attention
- Refraining from argument whenever you disagree
The above behaviours are especially common towards older people, but are also appreciated towards younger people.
When starting a relationship with a Thai business, it’s a good idea to bring a gift. The gift should be inexpensive; gifts such as food or fruits are common in Thailand. A Thai person may feel uncomfortable with a pricey gift. As a sign of respect, use both hands to give and receive gifts.
Ready (Prom Laew)
By now you should be equipped with the basics – enough to get you started on building a professional relationship with a Thai person. Best of luck on your next Thai business negotiation.