When doing business with foreigners, it’s important to understand some aspects of their behavior might be quite different than what is commonly accepted in Thailand. Although many western business people try to adapt to Thai customs, sometimes they have a hard time and make mistakes that can be perceived as disrespectful. Here are some things worth knowing when dealing with foreigners that can help everything go more smoothly and avoid conflict.
In many western countries, people shake hands when they meet. Greetings such as the wai are virtually unknown, as are the subtleties that come with it. This is why many foreigners will wait to see how their Thai counterpart greets them. That way they can respond accordingly.
If you decide to opt for shaking hands, know that a firm handshake is the accepted practice. Offering a soft, limp hand will often be taken as a sign of weakness and unprofessionalism. Eye contact is also very important during the greeting. Failing to look the other person in the eyes can also make you appear weak and insincere.
Business cards are considered way more important in Asia than in the west. Although many businesspeople coming from Europe are aware of this, they sometimes do not display the appropriate respect for a business card presented to them. This is not meant to be offensive but is rather a lack of cultural awareness or an honest mistake.
Europeans and Americans tend to communicate very directly. If there is something on their mind they say it, whether it is negative or positive. The idea of loss of face is not nearly as prevalent in their culture as in the Thai one and therefore they often lack the sensitivity to it. If a foreign business partner points out something negative, it is not meant as an offense but simply as a fact that needed to be stated.
When dealing with westerners it is also very important to express yourself clearly and directly. They expect you to voice concerns and issues without worrying about offending them. If you don’t, they will most likely assume that everything is going well and there are no problems. Hoping they will get the point from indirect hints will often lead to misunderstandings.
In Thailand, foreigners often have the reputation of being less courteous. This is usually not out of a lack of respect but because in many western cultures there are fewer nuances and details that dictate behavior. Coming to Thailand, where hierarchy and courtesy are among the most important behavioral traits can pose a challenge to them. If you notice a foreign acquaintance is experiencing difficulties, they often greatly appreciate it if you tell them what the proper etiquette in a certain situation is and how to follow it.
Importance of Relationships
Whether in business or in private, relationships in Thailand are very important. For most western business people, business is business and they don’t want to mix it with their personal lives very much. That’s why they will often want to get straight to the point during meetings and keep small talk to a minimum. For them, it is not out of a lack of interest or disrespect, but rather a sign of professionalism.
Giving them time to get used to local customs of building and maintaining relationships is important here. Explaining it to them will help them understand the value of it and in time they will start embracing it too.