Successful communication in Thailand

There are a multitude of different ethnicities and cultures in Thailand, which is why it’s not always so easy to find your bearings there. This can particularly be felt in everyday business communications, which are significantly influenced by Thailand’s cultural values. We would thus like to use today’s blog post to give you important tips on how to successfully communicate with Thai business partners.

Thailand is located in Southeast Asia, and it’s inhabited by around 68 million people. Its capital of Bangkok is both the cultural and economic hub of the nation. Thailand is an emerging country that has registered constant economic growth over the last three years, which is mainly reflected in its booming automotive industry and the rising popularity of agricultural products. It’s thus clear that the Land of Smiles is becoming increasingly interesting for international cooperation.

The first thing you should know is that Thailand has a predominantly indirect communication style, meaning that what’s said isn’t always what the speaker actually means. Many Thai people find it unpleasant to openly confront certain topics, especially problematic ones, and they try to avoid them to the greatest extent possible. Critical  issues are thus usually communicated in private. This is typically done in a roundabout way, with careful insinuations and in small doses.

The highest imperative is harmony

This indirect style of communicating is meant primarily to avoid conflicts and encourage peaceful cooperation. The top priorities in Thailand are harmonic relations [Jai Yen] with fellow human beings and mutual respect. In this context, intense feelings such as annoyance and anger should be controlled and hidden from the outside world in order to save face [i.e., preserve individual honor] for both yourself and your counterpart. This cultural value also comes into play in the business world.cross-cultural training, cross-cultural training Thailand, Thailand, relationship, face, indirectness, hierarchy, negotiations

It’s consequently important for you to speak carefully with Thai people, to defuse your [more direct] statements and to incorporate friendly words and praise into your critical points. Conversely, this means that you should think more closely about your Thai counterpart’s statements. Pay attention to phrasing [e.g., evasive formulations or suggested alternatives] and nonverbal gestures that could possibly imply messages between the lines. Remember that a “yes” in Thailand doesn’t necessarily mean approval or agreement.

Hierarchy, negotiations, etc.

In addition to an appropriate communication style, there are a few other things you should keep in mind in order to avoid committing blunders in the Thai business world.

  • Be mindful of the fact that Thai companies tend to be hierarchy-oriented. Hierarchical structures play an important role and should thus be adhered to – by you as well. If you’re a manager responsible for leading a Thai team, for instance, this entails specific expectations [e.g., taking responsibility for and looking after employees].
  • Also keep in mind that private life in Thailand is not as strictly separated from work life as it is in other countries. The establishment of personal relationships at work is actually sought after. Moreover, networks are hugely important for professional success. So get to know your colleagues and partners better, exchange a few private words and don’t shy away from grabbing a meal together after work!
  • If you find yourself in a negotiation situation with Thai people, remain patient! In addition to a time-consuming getting-to-know-you phase among business partners, several meetings and agreements with senior partners are required before decisions are finally made. Try not to push your Thai business partners. Give them time and you’ll ultimately reach your goal.

In the Thai culture and business world, there are certain things that might be a little different from what you’re used to. Of course, we’d be happy to provide you with much more information on your target country and address your individual needs in our cross-cultural sensitization training, where we can extensively discuss and practice relevant topics such as team work and project management ?.


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About Sophie Humpisch

I studied business communication and cross-cultural competence. During my studies I lived abroad for a long time and therefore experienced cross-cultural differences on my own. I have been with Eidam & Partner since 2014, being responsible for the support and recruiting of cross-cultural experts. Eidam & Partner offers worldwide services related to cross-cultural communication, such as cross-cultural training, cross-cultural coaching, eLearning and preparation for international assignments for more than 80 target countries.
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