Tips for How to Be Successful in Business in Thailand If You’re a Westerner
During my 12 years living in Bangkok, Thailand, I’ve worked for various Thai-owned international companies in the city.
My last job was with one of the ‘big 4’ international accounting firms teaching their employees English and business skills. Interestingly, however, from my interactions at the company, with everyone from the secretaries to the partners, I learned as much about the Thai way of doing business as I taught them the western way. That, of course, has helped me be successful in business in Thailand since.
If you too are planning on doing business with companies in Thailand, knowing how the Thais conduct business meetings, negotiate, and agree on contracts or final orders will go a long way to ensuring your success. Do it the western way, however, and failure is almost certain.
Follow these tips and your travels on the road to good business relations with Thais and Thai companies should be long and plentiful.
Using the Thai word ‘Khun’ – On a first visit to Thailand, you will probably notice the Thai word ‘Khun’ being used everywhere you go. Khun is a prefix to a name and, like westerners use ‘Mr’, ‘Mrs’ or ‘Miss’, Khun is used to denote respect. It is also used for both men and women and is placed in front of the first name of a person and not the last. So, if your name is Mark Thompson, you will be called ‘Khun Mark’ and not ‘Khun Thompson’.
When you hear Thais calling you with the prefix ‘Khun’, it generally means they already have respect for you. If you suddenly realize they are no longer using it and you are in the middle of negotiations, you really are in trouble.
Don’t be aggressive – More than anything else, Thais hate aggressive people. That means if you’re a western business person who is used to aggressively going after what you want when it comes to finalizing deals or making sales, you won’t want to do that in Thailand. Not if you want to be successful that is, or gain a Thai person’s respect.
At my last job, one of the men who owned the company, an extremely wealthy and influential Thai businessman, told me why he will no longer deal with Australians in his business. It seems he’d had three different Australians approach him over the last year but they were so aggressive with their sales pitch and, as he put it, ‘rude’, he now refuses to even take phone calls from anyone at an Australian company.
While that is a bit extreme, it is part of the Thai way of doing business. Have experiences with an aggressive sales person or even an aggressive client? Avoid them from now on and eventually they will go away.
That’s because aggression in Thailand is looked upon as unnecessary, rude and low-class. The minute you begin being aggressive in any business situation, you have already lost.
Things take a long time to happen – Don’t expect to sit in a meeting in Thailand, present your information, have a short discussion and then a decision be made on the subject in question. It will never happen.
Instead, what will happen is a series of meetings that seem to be about anything but the actual business decision at hand, which is usually the point westerners start to become irritated. Don’t.
Things are actually moving along quite nicely and you are getting closer to hearing a decision and probably making a sale or closing a deal satisfactorily. But…..part of the whole negotiation is earning the Thai business person’s respect and that includes being patient enough to let him make his decision in his own time.
Don’t ever lose your temper. Ever – I can’t stress this enough. Losing your temper in Thailand is something that just is not done. In my 12 years of living in the country, I’ve only ever seen two Thais lose their temper and all those around them were appalled.
In business in Thailand, if you lose your temper you can wave that business deal goodbye. as the Thai you were dealing with no longer has any respect for you because you have already ‘lost face’.
On the other hand, if you are a westerner that can relax, let things take their natural course, and look perfectly happy and content while you are doing it, not only will you earn the respect of just about every Thai in the room, you will have a good chance of securing the deal. After all, you have just out-Thai-d the Thais.
When a Thai business person agrees to a deal, they usually presume that business relationship they have just been involved in creating will continue for a long time. When they come across a western business person who understands the necessity of getting to know each other well and taking their time, it makes them even happier about the deal and about the westerner they have been dealing with.
All in all, much of the success of doing business in Thailand can be boiled down to just a few things. Take your time. Keep your temper. Stay relaxed. Be polite, and let things take their natural course. If you can do this, doing business in Thailand could be extremely successful for you.
For more information on the intricacies of Thai culture, there’s an excellent book called Culture Smart Thailand: A Quick Guide to Customs and Etiquette that is well worth a read.