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Intercultural Management - Thailand

Being a Manager in Thailand
Management Guide Thailand

Business in Thailand is more formal than in many western countries and to ensure successful cross cultural management you will need to be aware that there are strict rules of protocol that must be observed. People observe a strict chain of command, which comes with expectations on both sides. In order to keep others from losing face, communication is often non-verbal, so you must closely watch the facial expressions and body language of people while conducting business.

The Role of a Manager

Cross cultural communication will be more effective when you are working in Thailand, if you keep in mind that each person has a very distinct role within the organization, and maintaining that role helps to keep order.

In Thailand, as in other hierarchical societies, managers may take a somewhat paternalistic attitude to their employees.

Approach to Change

Thailand’s intercultural competence and readiness for change is low. Its’ conservatism means that change can often be seen as a threat to society. Managers are therefore likely to be averse to change and it is essential that any changes are viewed as positive for the ‘whole’ and not just an individual.

Of course, change does happen, but effective management in Thailand needs to take into account that any change is going to take longer to implement.

Approach to Time and Priorities

Deadlines and timescales are fluid. Patience is the key to successful intercultural management when working in Thailand. Essentially a relationship-driven culture, it should be understood that taking the time to get to know someone will always take precedence over any timelines. Don’t rush the relationship building process or you may jeopardise any future business dealings.

When working with people from Thailand, it’s advisable to reinforce the importance of the agreed-upon deadlines and how that may affect the rest of the organization. However, it isn’t unusual for a manager in Thailand to avoid confrontation over a deadline in order to maintain a positive relationship within the team.

Global and intercultural expansion means that some managers may have a greater appreciation of the need to enforce timescales and as such, agreed deadlines are more likely to be met.

Decision Making

Many older Thai companies still adhere to a rigid hierarchy, although this is starting to change in many multi-nationals, entrepreneurial companies, and those that do business with foreigners on a regular basis. This is a country where rank not only has its privileges, but also comes with clear-cut responsibilities. Employees show respect and deference to their managers and in return, managers know their subordinates' personal situations and offer advice and guidance wherever it is needed. In more entrepreneurial companies, this may be changing.

Boss or Team Player?

Due to the hierarchical set up in Thailand, it is important that the manager maintains his / her role as ‘boss’ and engenders the necessary respect from within the team.

When the manager needs to work collectively with his / her team however, then it is important that the need to work collectively is stated and that the team is encouraged to operate openly in a non-threatening environment.

If an individual makes any contributions which are seen as not useful or necessary, the manager needs to deal with this sensitively. It is essential that the individual does not feel shamed in front of his/her colleagues and that the rest of the group feel able to continue participating and offering their contributions.

Communication and Negotiation Styles

Remain standing until told where to sit. Personal relationships are crucial to conducting business. Relationships are based on respect and trust. It takes time to develop a comfortable working relationship and patience may be a necessary cross cultural attribute. The first meeting often takes place over lunch or drinks so your Thai colleagues can get to know you. Business is not discussed on this occasion. Thais are non-confrontational. It is rare for them to overtly disagree. Hence, bear in mind that "yes" may not mean agreement in the way most westerners understand the term. It may mean, "I am saying this so you will stop talking about the subject".

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