Thailand may not be the most talked about market in the world, but it is by no means a small market. The amount of tourists and expats it attracts each year is huge. But Thai culture is extremely different from Western Europe, or the U.S. It is a land of extreme politeness and subtlety and this is mirrored in the business world. If you wish to have a productive business venture in Thailand, then it is essential to understand their unique business etiquette. Hopefully this guide will give you the information you need to get started.
In Thailand, most businesses are owned by families and most of these families know each other. Because of this, Thais only like to do business with people that they know. It is imperative that you establish a good relationship with a company before any deal can be finalised. Therefore it is unlikely that any decisions will be made on a first meeting and will probably require several business meetings. This can be a slow and somewhat painful process especially for foreigners, but it is inevitable.
In Bangkok the business attire is quite conservative. Both men and women are expected to wear dark coloured suits, despite the heat. Outside of Bangkok the dress code much more relaxed, a long sleeved shirt and slacks should be acceptable. Business Cards are Sacred As in many Asian countries, a lot of importance is placed on business cards. When you receive a business card, it is important to read and then place it carefully in your wallet. Likewise, your own business card should be offered to the most senior person in a meeting before anyone else. It should also state your position within your company, so that your Thai counterparts understand your place within the company hierarchy.
Being punctual is very important to Thai people. It is better to arrive a few minutes early for a meeting rather than just on time. If you are just on time, or even a minute, or two late for a meeting, it may be viewed as extremely unprofessional.
An important thing to remember is that in Thailand ‘yes’ has two meanings. The word Chai means ‘Yes’ but the words ‘Khrap’(male) and ‘Kha’(female) mean ‘yes I follow’. It is imperative that you clarify exactly what someone is saying.
Despite the somewhat conservative nature of Thai culture, small talk is actually expected at the beginning of a business meeting. Diving straight into business without having a little friendly chat, is viewed as bad manners. It is also common place to be invited for a round of golf or some other kind of activity. Much of this is an effort to get to know you better, so take every opportunity you can.
Don’t Badmouth the King
Saying anything bad about the king is an extremely dangerous thing to do in Thailand. Not only will it offend your potential business partners, as the royal family are extremely respected, but it could also land you in jail. The maximum sentence for disrespecting the king being the death penalty.
Thai people enjoy their food and hospitality, so if you are invited for a meal make sure you accept the invitation. However, there are certain rules that you must follow. Shoes must be removed when you enter a home or restaurant. Thai food is eaten with either fork and spoon or your fingers. Only some food is eaten with your fingers though and even then it can only be with your right hand. Unless you are extremely hungry don’t clear your plate as a clear plate is a sign that you are still hungry and it will be refilled. It is important to wait to be seated by your host as the most senior person usually sits at the head of the table.
Giving gifts if highly encouraged in Thailand, but there are certain rules to follow. It is important to both give and receive with your right hand. Bringing something small from your own country such as food or alcohol is a good idea. It is considered rude to open a gift in the presence of the gift giver, so you must wait until you are back in your hotel before you open it.
Despite your urge it is best not to try out the traditional semi head bow used by Thais called the Wai. It is dependent on rules of status and class so it is best to leave it up to your business partners. If they put their hands together and bow their head then do likewise, otherwise refrain. If you get it wrong, you will seem like an idiot. It is most likely as a foreigner that you will be met with a light handshake. As a side note, touching a person’s head is a serious faux pas in Thai culture, so whatever you do, don’t bang heads if you do attempt a Wai.
Although some of these rules may seem strange. Not adhering to them may well cost you a lucrative business deal. In fact one could even land you in jail. So as long as you adhere to most of these rules you should be more prepared and hopefully more successful than any competitors who go in blind.