Business culture in Thailand

Thailand – the land of the smiles. Thailand is known for its warm and welcoming culture and people. Thailand is a historically autonomous Asian kingdom, and therefore significantly

influenced by its traditions. The majority of Thai people are Buddhist, namely more than 95% of the population. Buddhism is commonly thought of as ‘a way of life’ rather than just a religion by many Thai people. (Scroope, 2016) Theravada Buddhism remains having a strong element in Thai religion and culture that draws influences from both Hinduism and animism. After Buddhism Islam is the biggest religion and only a small percentage of the population is Christianity or has a different religion. Thai people are extremely polite and showing respect is an important aspect in the Thai culture. Thai people are using words to indicate a person’s age: ‘pee’ is used before an older person’s name to show respect and ‘nong’ is used before the name of a younger person than them. Thailand has a rich history of art and culture, and the traditional art and culture is mostly composed of Buddhist art and scenes from the Indian epics. Tourists love Thailand for the rich culture, art, food, celebrations and traditions. (Fernando, 2021)

Distinctive aspects Thai culture

The Thai society is known for being modest and conservative. The concept of ‘face’ is an important aspect in the Thai culture. Face is the reputation someone has, and the actions you perform can give you face or can result in losing your face. For example, complementing a person or increasing another’s self-esteem can give you face and on the other side pointing out someone’s error or criticising someone can cause a loss of face. Losing face will bring shame.

Thai people wish to maintain harmony between each other and show everyone the amount of respect they deserve. Thai people are deliberate in presenting themselves and having a calm disposition is the norm. Negative emotions are avoided.

Thailand is a hierarchical society and Thai people should therefore take into account another individual’s status relative to oneself. The individual status depends on age, education, job, etc. Thai people generally do not challenge the hierarchical structure and accept the differences in status.

Thai people generally have a strong work ethic and are willing to be content with what they have. ‘Sanuk’ is the effort to achieve satisfaction in what you do and make the most of any situation. This is an attitude Thai people have and can be seen in playfulness and fun in activities. This also relate to being ‘the land of smiles’; people smile and laugh when interacting with others. (Scroope, 2016)

5 basic etiquettes in Thailand:

  1. Status influences the way someone sits, walks and interacts with others. Clothing is also an indicator of social status.
  2. Using only your left hand is a taboo and therefore the right hand is used for passing or receiving items. Using both hands is also considered as appropriate. This is also the rule for receiving or handing out a business card. Reading the details of a business card is important after you received it.
  3. The top of the head is considered the most important part of the human body and therefore touching someone on the top of their head, is considered rude or insensitive. This applies especially to babies and children.
  4. Thai people are relaxed about punctuality but are mostly arriving quite on time. A phone call is appreciated when being late, however people will not mind being late a couple of minutes.
  5. Guests for dinner will receive a second serving of food most of the time. The host will encourage the guests to eat as much as they are able to. (Scroope, 2016)

The business culture in Thailand is generally formal. The Thai culture can be difficult for foreigners in the beginning, but Thai people are aware of it and accept that foreigners does not have all the knowledge yet. Not having the appropriate behaviour or following all the unwritten rules is therefore not a big deal in the beginning. Thailand is ranked the 18th best place to do business in the world by The World Bank’s in their ‘Doing Business Report.’ (Ministry of foreign affairs of Denmark, n.d.)

Bangkok

45% of the total Thai population lives in Bangkok. This is nearby 11 million people. Bangkok is the busy capital city of Thailand. Bangkok is full of life, and it has terrible traffic and is also dangerous – answering phone calls, skyping with clients and finishing project work in the car is common. Bangkok has a diverse culture with influences from other countries in Southeast Asia. English is widely used, especially in big companies. However, providing an interpreter will be expected sometimes since English is not a natural language for Thai people. (Brenenstuhl, 2018) The Thai alphabet is unique and only used in Thailand so this makes learning English as a Thai person difficult, since a new alphabet should be learned. English teaching is mandatory at schools, but the English language learning can be very insufficient. So, it is a huge advantage to learn a bit of The Thai language before going there, especially if you are in another part of the country. (Ministry of foreign affairs of Denmark, n.d.)

The most important aspects of the business culture in Bangkok in short:

  1. The concept of face should be honoured
  2. Business relationships are important
  3. Traditions and families are key
  4. There is a high-power distance in Thailand
  5. Paying attention to context is important
  6. Distinguish business fashion and etiquette (Brenenstuhl, 2018)

The business culture in Thailand

Short tips on the business culture in Thailand:

  1. Small gifts and simple courtesies are appreciated.
  2. Thai people are mostly Buddhist and take Buddhism seriously.
  3. Giving or handing something should be done with both hands. (Ramadori, 2020)

 Greetings 

Wai is the typical greeting in Thailand. You place your hands together in prayer and you make a small bow with your head. Smiling and slightly nod is considered a friendly and respectful greeting when meeting someone new. (Ramadori, 2020)

Hierarchy 

Thailand is a hierarchical society and Thai people have respect for their elders. Offering your business card will make the process of determining where you fall in the hierarchy clearer. Determining where someone falls in the hierarchy is important to give the respect the other person deserves. (Ramadori, 2020)

Business communication 

Thai people are good listeners and therefore rarely interrupt a person who is speaking. Face is also important in the business culture, since it is the intention to maintain the reputation of yourself, but also of the business and other people. Being conscious of displaying emotions is important. Sanuk is also known in the business culture. Both discussing social affairs during work and discussing work during social affairs is welcome. (Scroope, 2016)

Important points to remember when speaking with Thai business contacts:

  1. ‘Khun’ is equivalent to Mr., Mrs., Ms. and Miss and should therefore be used when addressing a superior.
  2. Both interrupting and correcting others should be avoided, the same as teasing or playfully mocking the people whom you are speaking.
  3. Avoid speaking negatively about Thai political figures.
  4. The best way to deal with making mistakes is to laugh at yourself and to move on. (Ramadori, 2020)

Business attire 

How formal the business attire is depending on the part of the country. In Bangkok is more formal and conservative attire expected then in other parts of the country. However, black is not appropriate in business attires since it is only used at funerals. A common business outfit for businessmen contains a dark suit, white long-sleeve dress shirts and ties. Fabrics such as silk or cotton is considered appropriate just like taking your jacket of due to the hot weather in Thailand. In other parts of the country a long sleeve will be good enough for business meetings. Businesswomen are allowed to wear more colour than men, but should avoid bright red. A typical business outfit for women contains dresses, skirts and blouses or business suits. The allowed colours are dark colours, even as grey and white. Skirts should be knee-length and shoulders and necklines should be covered. (Ramadori, 2020)

Work ethic of ethnic Thai workers  

Ethnic Thai workers are mostly good and loyal workers, however, are not as motivated by work itself as for example people from the United States. Ethnic Thai people see work as a part of life, but work should have an element of enjoyment in it. Just like everything in the Thai culture. Thai workers must enjoy his or her job and foreign managers should take this into account when managing a Thai workforce. (Viktor, n.d.)

To conclude the business culture in Thailand, strong hierarchy and conservative but a warm, welcoming and relaxed atmosphere. Never forget to smile, be polite and show respect.

Bibliography

Brenenstuhl, T. I. O. E. (2018, December 26). 6 Things to Know About Thailand Culture While Doing Business in Bangkok. International Business Seminars. Retrieved October 19, 2021, from https://ibstours.com/blog/business-in-bangkok/

Fernando, C. (2021, February 23). 2021 Thailand Culture Guide: Everything You Need to Know. ZenRooms Blogs. Retrieved October 20, 2021, from https://www.zenrooms.com/blog/post/thailand-culture/

Ministry of foreign affairs of Denmark. (n.d.). Business Culture. Retrieved October 22, 2021, from https://thailand.um.dk/en/the-trade-council/thailand-as-market/business-culture

Ramadori, C. (2020, December 5). Thailand Business Culture: What You Need to Know. New Horizons Global Partners. Retrieved October 21, 2021, from https://nhglobalpartners.com/thailand-business-culture/

Scroope, C. (2016). Thai Culture – Business Culture. Cultural Atlas. Retrieved October 19, 2021, from https://culturalatlas.sbs.com.au/thai-culture/thai-culture-business-culture#thai-culture-business-culture

Viktor, D. A. V. (n.d.). Thailand, Doing Business in. Reference for Business. Retrieved October 20, 2021, from https://www.referenceforbusiness.com/encyclopedia/Str-The/Thailand-Doing-Business-in.html

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