8 challenges for Westerners working with Thais

First, full disclosure. I have travelled and worked all over the world and Thailand is my favourite place to work. Thailand has never been colonized and it is purely Asian, untainted with the colonialist influences, for better and worse.

Thailand is very unique, and it is hard to make sense of what is going on. The Thai business culture is very hard to decipher. Westerners constantly misread clients and staff and foreigners are very often misunderstood.

Here are eight challenges which illustrate some of the difficulties that you may encounter.

1) A Thai will go out of his way not to inconvenience you in any way, shape or form. Very often you may be told what to want to hear, unless you know how to get people to stop “klenjai”ing you (making you feel comfortable). It is not easy to get the level of trust that people will “level” with you. It can takes months.

2) Thais  takes work life balance very seriously. Any manager who does not respect this balance is pretty much wiped off the map. You must say hello in the morning, you should greet people and smile, you must engage in small talk and if you are too busy to do this, the Thais will not follow you.

3) Every country has its shortcomings. In some countries, one can discuss these shortcomings openly with the local staff. Not in Thailand. As an outsider, you must keep your criticism of Thai society to yourself. Don’t get this wrong.

4) Everything takes lots and lots and lots of time to get done.. Are you in a hurry? Don’t work in Thailand. And don’t try and speed things up.

5) Thai employees have opinions, criticisms, great ideas, personal preferences and dislikes. It is hard to observe all this unless you listen to what is not said, grasp hidden nuance, and gain peoples’  deep trust.You don’t get this by landing on Monday and leaving on Wednesday.

6) Meetings are not platforms for expressing differences of opinion “openly”.

7) Lots of very important information is relayed in gossip, because public discourse is needs to be polite and sound positive.Do not fight the gossip-log in.

8) If you are the boss, you are expected to know.  If you ask too many questions of your employees, they may wonder why you are a boss. And if you “delegate”, you may be seen as an absconder.

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