|

Thailand Business Culture: Insights & Tips (Local POV)

Thailand business culture unveils a tapestry woven with intricacies and unique nuances that set it apart from many other global markets. As a local Thai professional who has navigated the landscape of multinational corporations, I am keenly aware of the challenges that language and cultural barriers can present for foreigners seeking success in the Thai market, and the Thailand business culture.

Thailand’s rich cultural heritage, coupled with its unique linguistic landscape, creates a distinctive business environment. The Thai language, with its tonal nature and intricate script, poses a considerable challenge for non-native speakers. The subtleties in tone and pronunciation can significantly impact the meaning of words, making effective communication a delicate dance. Read here for more tips on how to work with companies in Thailand without knowing the Thai language. 

Decoding Thailand’s Business Culture: The Culture

Moreover, the Thai language, rich with cultural nuances, further complicates interactions. Politeness, respect, and social hierarchy intricately weave through every conversation. Navigating these linguistic subtleties is crucial for foreigners aiming to forge meaningful connections or conduct business in Thailand.

In a market where relationships are as crucial as the product or service offered, understanding and adapting to these cultural intricacies is paramount. Foreigners might find themselves puzzled by Greng jai or surprised by the laid-back nature of business dealings.

However, it’s these very challenges that make Thailand an intriguing and potentially profitable market for those who invest the time to understand its cultural intricacies. Beyond the initial complexities lies a business landscape brimming with opportunities for those willing to bridge the gap between their own cultural norms and Thai business practices.

In exploring Thailand’s business culture, we’ll delve into hierarchy, Greng jai, saving face, and the laid-back approach. Each aspect contributes to the uniqueness of the Thai market, and understanding them will pave the way for successful engagements. Let’s embark on this journey to decode Thailand’s cultural intricacies and uncover its distinctive and rewarding business landscape.

What exactly is Thailand business culture?

What is Thailand business culture?​

Delving into Thailand’s business culture reveals four fundamental elements: Hierarchy, Greng jai, Saving face, and Laid back. Each of these aspects plays a crucial role in shaping the dynamics of business interactions. And having a deeper understanding of them is essential for fruitful engagements in the Thailand business culture.

 

Hierarchy

Reflecting on personal experiences, I vividly recall a moment from my school days that highlights the profound influence of hierarchy in Thai culture. In a classroom setting, my teacher, frustrated, voiced her discontent with the world. Curious, I glanced at her for too long.

Unknowingly, this lack of deference resulted in swift consequences—a ruler stamp on my hand. This childhood memory underscores the early indoctrination of respect for authority in Thai schools. It taught me that questioning higher positions leads to consequences.

In the professional realm, a similar expectation exists: respecting and adhering to the opinions of those in authority is crucial. Arguing with a boss in Thailand breaches workplace etiquette and cultural norms. The childhood lesson carries into the professional world, emphasizing the need for humility when expressing differing opinions to higher-ups. In the delicate workplace dynamics of Thai business culture, conveying alternative perspectives with deference is essential to maintain harmony within the hierarchy.

Navigating Age-Wise Hierarchy in Thai Business Culture

Within the realm of age-wise hierarchy, the importance of addressing someone older with reverence is deeply woven into the cultural fabric. The use of a preposition, such as “Pi,” before the name of an older individual, signifies not only respect but also acknowledges their seniority. This subtle yet significant cultural practice extends beyond mere politeness; it is a tangible manifestation of the importance placed on seniority in Thai society. While foreigners may not always strictly adhere to these cultural nuances, understanding the significance of age-wise hierarchy and seniority can foster a positive and respectful atmosphere in business dealings. In Thailand business culture, acknowledging and appreciating the cultural reverence for authority and seniority is not just a formality but a key to building meaningful connections and successful collaborations.

Why should you consider hierarchy in Thailand business culture?

In navigating the intricate landscape of business in Thailand, understanding and respecting hierarchy can prove to be the linchpin for successful collaborations. My own journey, influenced by lessons learned from my school days about deference to authority, attests to the profound impact of hierarchy in professional spheres.

It transcends mere formality, evolving into a cultural norm that can significantly shape the dynamics of business interactions. It’s not just a bonus point; it’s a fundamental element that can elevate your company’s standing in the eyes of potential partners or clients. 

Consider a scenario where a Thai business professional finds themselves inundated with numerous vendors vying for their attention. In this fiercely competitive landscape, displaying genuine respect becomes a potent differentiator, potentially tilting the scales in your favor.

Drawing from our own experiences in serving clients, we have witnessed firsthand the power of building rapport through adherence to the principles of hierarchy. Even as seasoned business professionals, individuals still gravitate towards dealings with those who exhibit cultural sensitivity and respect.

In Thailand business culture, cultivating these interpersonal skills becomes not just an advantage but a cornerstone for establishing stronger and more fruitful connections.

Navigating Thai Business Communication: From Hierarchy to Face-to-Face

Furthermore, the implications of hierarchy extend beyond interpersonal dynamics to the practicalities of communication. Traditional channels like email or cold calling may prove challenging when attempting to reach top-level management in a Thai company. The deeply ingrained respect for the management level in Thailand often makes it difficult to navigate through the company’s call center to connect with decision-makers. 

Drawing from our track record of successfully navigating these challenges for our clients, we understand the nuances of the landscape. For those looking to propose products and services or seeking to establish a presence without an in-house team in Thailand, a face-to-face presentation becomes a highly effective strategy. Engaging directly with decision-makers not only leaves a lasting impression but also facilitates the exchange of name cards, establishing a direct line of communication crucial for successful collaboration in the Thai business landscape.

Hierarchy in Thailand

Greng jai, the key element of Thailand’s business culture

In Thailand, the concept of “greng jai” plays a pivotal role in interpersonal relationships, fostering harmony and social cohesion. It goes beyond mere politeness; it’s a cultural norm encouraging individuals to be attuned to the needs and emotions of those around them. 

The term encompasses a range of behaviors, from hesitating to express one’s own desires to going out of one’s way to avoid inconveniencing others. This intricate dance of consideration is evident in personal and professional settings, influencing communication styles, decision-making processes, and even the acceptance of compliments.

For outsiders, understanding the depth of greng jai can be a nuanced journey. It involves navigating a cultural landscape where indirect communication is valued, and the unspoken is often more significant than the spoken. While this consideration for others can create a warm and inviting atmosphere, it may also lead to challenges in deciphering true sentiments. 

Navigating greng jai requires a delicate balance of respect, sensitivity, and a keen awareness of non-verbal cues. As one delves into the intricacies of Thai culture, greng jai unveils itself as a cornerstone of social dynamics, shaping the way individuals interact and connect in the Land of Smiles.

How does Greng jai affect business interactions?

In a business setting, “Greng jai” often translates to a hesitancy to express direct disagreement or dissatisfaction. Instead of outright rejection, people may choose silence to avoid confrontation. For instance, when you initially introduce yourself to a potential buyer and receive a lukewarm response or no reply to your email, it shouldn’t be seen as a dismissal but rather as an opportunity for negotiation or further clarification.

In my experience representing clients, I’ve noticed that some Thai individuals simply need more explanation. They may have questions about your products but are hesitant to ask outright, fearing it might lead to not making a purchase. This is where “Greng jai” comes into play. When combined with the cultural aspect of saving face by avoiding incorrect English grammar, it often results in individuals choosing not to reply to emails at all.

 

How can understanding Greng jai benefit you in Thailand business culture?

Understanding Greng jai as a cultural norm enables you to navigate negotiations more effectively. Offering product samples or actively seeking feedback can encourage communication. Additionally, acknowledging and respecting your counterparts’ time, refraining from pushing for immediate responses after working hours, can further strengthen your professional relationships. This approach can earn you bonus points when working with companies in Thailand.


Saving face

The concept of “saving face,” with a specific term in Thai, holds significant importance in business interactions. It involves avoiding actions that could potentially embarrass or shame others, emphasizing the cultural value of maintaining harmony and dignity.

Consider English communication in Thailand as an example. English classes are mandatory in schools up until junior high school, meaning that individuals from Generation X and later should have a certain level of English skills. However, they might choose not to engage in conversation. I’m not suggesting that they are fluent speakers who occasionally encounter unfamiliar words. Instead, they might deliberately avoid speaking if they feel their English proficiency is not up to par. This fear of speaking poorly can lead them to lose face, especially if the other person reacts with a smile or confusion, making the situation even more uncomfortable.

 And I’m not the only one on this, read what Bangkokpost’s author writes about here.
Greng jai, important in business, Thailand

How does saving face impact business transactions?

Beyond the avoidance of speaking English, Thailand business culture encompasses a nuanced approach to negotiation and deal-closing. It’s not uncommon in Thailand business culture for Thais to engage in what is colloquially known as “off-line” discussions, a practice deeply ingrained in the local business milieu. 

Rather than sealing the deal in the formal setting of a meeting, individuals may prefer to negotiate or seek clarification after the meeting has concluded. This allows for a more personalized and considerate approach, steering clear of the potential pitfalls associated with being too direct or confrontational in a public forum.

Moreover, this tendency to avoid immediate resolution in a meeting is rooted in cultural values such as “greng jai” (being considerate of others’ feelings) and saving face. Thais place a high premium on maintaining harmony and avoiding embarrassment, both for themselves and their counterparts.

By deferring discussions to a more private or informal setting, individuals can address concerns without putting anyone on the spot, fostering a collaborative atmosphere. It’s a delicate dance of diplomacy, where the emphasis lies not only on the content of the conversation but also on the manner in which it unfolds.

In terms of language barriers, Thais may opt for silence rather than attempting to express themselves in English, particularly if they find it challenging. This silence, however, should not be misconstrued as disinterest or lack of engagement.

Rather, it reflects a cultural inclination to avoid potential embarrassment by not venturing into linguistic territory that might be uncomfortable. Navigating these intricacies requires patience and persistent follow-up, emphasizing the importance of building relationships and understanding the underlying cultural dynamics that shape business interactions in Thailand.

How can you navigate saving face in Thailand business culture?

Recognizing that silence doesn’t always indicate rejection is crucial, whether in a business meeting or one-on-one correspondence. Following up with additional information or offering discounts can help uncover the reasons behind the initial hesitation. 

On the other hand, it’s essential to consider what the person would prefer you to say or do to allow them to save face. For instance, during a business meeting with a Thai team, pointing out flaws or mistakes of subordinates in front of their management team would be highly inappropriate. It’s important to be considerate and understand that being too direct in public may not align with the norms of Thai business culture.

In the end, patience and persistence are vital to any business success, especially when building successful business relationships in a Thai business culture that values saving face.

 

Laid back

Thailand is seriously one of the chillest places I’ve ever been to. There’s this saying Thai people throw around all the time, “Mai Pen Rai,” which basically means “never mind” or “it’s OK.” I got a taste of the laid-back vibe recently after coming back from Japan, where trains run on a military schedule. I hopped on a Thai train, and let me tell you, it took off for only a minute and stopped like it was hitting the snooze button. What went down was this young lady had a sudden stomach ache and needed the restroom just as the train was taking off, basically she missed the train. 

She managed to let someone on the platform know, and bam, the train hit the brakes to wait for her. That’s the kind of thing you’d never see in Japan or most other places. But here, people just roll with it. We were all just like, “No big deal, Mai Pen Rai, if that was us, we’d be grateful the train waited.”

saving face culture in Thailand

The Laid-Back Business Vibe in Thailand: Where Fun Meets Deals

So, that easygoing spirit in Thailand? It’s not just a casual life thing; it seeps right into the business world too. The business scene here has this laid-back vibe that stands out from the craziness you find in other places. It really changes the game when it comes to sealing the deal, making the whole process feel way more laid-back and, honestly, kind of fun.

Now, let me be real with you—I think this easy-breezy approach might be one of the reasons why we’re not as developed as some first-world countries. I mean, we’re not as strict and uptight as those places. We don’t take ourselves too seriously, and maybe that’s why we’re a bit behind in the development race. But you know what? It’s a trade-off. We might not be leading the charge in tech, but we’ve got this awesome, relaxed vibe that makes doing business a breeze. 

How does the laid-back culture manifest in business?

Thais generally demonstrate a forgiving and understanding disposition, even within professional contexts. Instances of missing deadlines or encountering minor setbacks in business may not incur severe consequences, reflecting the prevailing relaxed nature of Thai society.

During my tenure as a sales capability manager at a prominent multinational corporation in Thailand, I observed a unique fusion of global influence and distinctly Thai management. Meetings within this setting rarely commenced punctually, with the exception being engagements involving the company’s General Manager. Sales training sessions typically initiated with extensive small talk and humor, accompanied by a somewhat flexible punctuality standard, often running 10-20 minutes behind schedule—a distinctly Thai characteristic. 

Thai Business Tempo: Balancing Laid-Back and Focused

Conversely, within another formidable Thai conglomerate, specifically the Food team comprising senior-level management, early arrivals were commonplace. However, their attendance was staggered due to prior commitments, such as some participation in an early morning meeting. Consequently, presentations were initiated earlier than planned to accommodate early arrivals, allowing for subsequent interactions with those joining later.

This organizational approach, while seemingly informal and lacking in military precision, contributes to a laid-back and easy-going atmosphere. Despite the casual ambiance, business discussions and negotiations maintain a sincere and focused tone, creating an environment that distinctly exudes a more relaxed ethos compared to other international business settings.

How can you adapt to the laid-back nature of business in Thailand?

Recognizing and adopting the laid-back approach is key. Knowing that responses might not be as swift and deadlines may have a bit more wiggle room than what you’re used to fosters a collaborative environment infused with patience and understanding. Establishing transparent expectations from the get-go can be instrumental in navigating the relaxed pace inherent in Thai business.

Let’s break it down with a real-world scenario. Say a client mentions they’ll loop back with feedback from their boss on your quotation but goes radio silent. Instead of assuming they’re hitting the eject button on you, view it as a chance to shoot them a friendly follow-up. Read here for more tips in the best channel to do business follow-up with Thais. Find out what might be causing the delay and practice a bit of patience. It’s about keeping the lines of communication open and understanding that in the Thai business landscape, things unfold at their own unhurried rhythm. It’s less about hitting the panic button and more about sipping your coffee while waiting for the pieces to fall into place.

 
Laid-back culture in Thailand

Conclusion: Thailand's business culture

In wrapping things up, getting a grasp of Thailand’s business culture boils down to understanding the intricacies of hierarchy, Greng jai, the importance of saving face, and the generally easygoing vibe in interactions. Navigating these cultural nuances opens the door to fruitful collaborations and mutually beneficial relationships within Thailand’s dynamic business landscape. Acknowledging and respecting the local perspectives on these cultural elements is the ticket for foreign businesses looking to not just survive but thrive in Thailand’s lively and diverse market.

Now, I’m curious—what aspect of Thailand’s business culture threw you for a loop the most? Share your thoughts in the comments below. And hey, if you’re treading into the business waters of Thailand and could use a friendly guide, feel free to drop us a line. We’re all ears and more than happy to lend a hand in making your business journey in Thailand a smooth and successful one.

 
Thailand's business culture: Summary

Similar Posts