Challenges of Doing Business in Thailand

Matthew MacLachlan

7 Jun 2010

The modern Kingdom of Thailand has flourished for over two centuries, during which time a society built on tolerance and hospitality, openness and fervent independence has developed. Geographically, the country is at the centre of what was until the 1950s French Indo-China.  However, the Thai people were never subjected to foreign colonial rule – a fact of which they are extremely proud.

Thai culture has been influenced and shaped by a number of diverse sources, such as Chinese culture and Buddhist and Hindu philosophies. This mix has led to a complex way of thinking which must be understood to interact successfully with Thai counterparts.  By completing a cross-cultural training programme for business and management such as Doing Business in Thailand, your organisation will be better equipped to form coherent strategies for profitable and enduring associations with counterparts in Thailand.

Below are some of the major conceptual challenges to understanding Thai business culture and society.

Face
The concept of saving face is important in Thai society. Thais will do anything to prevent loss of face, including avoiding confrontation or telling others what they want to hear rather than dealing with immediate issues. Criticising someone in public and not staying true to promises are various ways that people may be perceived to ‘lose face’ in Thailand.

Collectivism
Thailand is a collectivist society in which the needs of the group are often placed over those of the individual. Family and community concerns will almost always be put above business or individual needs. Family in particular plays an important role in Thai society. You will notice that close ties between extended families and communities can have a major influence on individual behaviour in Thailand and often there are multiple generations living under one roof.

Indirect Communication
Being subtle and indirect are valued characteristics in Thai communication. In conversation, a considerable part of the information lies in underlying messages or in non-verbal cues. Thai people avoid direct confrontation, and criticism, if given at all, is delivered indirectly.

Family

As the cornerstone of Thai society, the family is attributed great value and importance. Thai families are close and several generations may live in the same house, with the oldest male being the head of the household. The power structure of the family is mirrored in the organisational environment. Advice from elders is expected to be followed without question, although this is becoming less true with time and modernisation.

Thailand is a fascinating and complex country, influenced by centuries of religious philosophy, immigrant know-how and wisdom coming from foreign trade and commerce. This complexity can be hard to understand for the outsider in Thailand, and an obstacle to doing business. By enrolling members of your organisation on a cross cultural awareness training course such as Doing Business in Thailand or Living and Working in Thailand, your organisation will be able to form strategies to cope with and manage interactions when doing business in Thailand.

 



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