If you are considering expanding your business to Thailand, starting a joint venture, or having important business meetings in the country, it is important that you understand Thailand business culture. Local customs may be different than what you are used to, and you want to avoid committing a faux pas when you are seeking to impress new contacts.
Below, we discuss important components of the business culture in Thailand and offer helpful tips for your next business engagement.
Building Business Relationships
On the whole, the Thai culture is a lot more relaxed than in other countries. People may ask you a lot of questions that you might think are personal, but this is just a way to get to know you better. To build a successful business relationship in Thailand, you will need to be open and upfront.
Before Thai people will agree to do business with you, they will want to first develop a personal relationship with you. They need to be able to trust you and relate to you.
Your first meetings may involve more dining and entertainment than talk about the business. Be personable by talking about things that interest your Thai business contacts and show sincere interest in their lives.
The typical greeting in Thailand is the wai, which involves you placing your hands together in prayer form and making a slight bow of your head. You can also smile and slightly nod your head as a friendly greeting to show respect when meeting someone new.
Like many Asian countries, Thailand respects hierarchies and most people have a great respect for their elders. People will want to try to determine where you fall in this hierarchy so that they can give you the proper respect.
Make this process easier for people you come in contact with by offering your business card, which will clearly display your job title and role within the company.
In Bangkok, business attire is more formal and conservative than in other parts of the country. Dark shades are usually acceptable and more expected than bright, vibrant colors. Stick to grays and browns since black is only used at funerals.
Businessmen in Thailand usually wear:
- Dark suits
- White long-sleeve dress shirts
It is common for men to wear darker, more conservative clothing. However, you might want to use a more breathable fabric like silk or cotton to combat the extreme temperatures in the country.
Businessmen often take their jacket off and hold it over their shoulders when it gets too hot – this is acceptable and not seen as too informal.
Businesswomen sometimes use more color than their male counterparts, but women should avoid bright red. Businesswomen in Thailand are usually adorned in:
- Dark-colored, gray, or white dresses
- Knee-length skirts
- Blouses that cover the shoulders and neckline
- Business suits
When you are talking to Thai business contacts, be respectful.
Use the term Khun before addressing a superior, which is equivalent to Mr., Mrs. Ms. and Miss. Avoid interrupting others when they are talking.
Avoid speaking negatively about any Thai political figures. Also, avoid teasing or playfully mocking the people with whom you are speaking. This is not expected and may be taken seriously. Also, avoid correcting others.
If you make some kind of mistake, laugh at yourself and move on.
Other Tips on Thai Business Culture
Some other things to know about the Thai business culture are:
- Simple courtesies are appreciated. Holding doors open or offering to bring a drink to an event can be simple ways to ingratiate yourself to Thai people.
- Small gifts are also appreciated. Consider bringing a token gift with you when first meeting a new contact.
- Most Thai people are Buddhists and take their religion seriously. Avoid taking selfies with Buddhist statues and respect religious objects.
- Do not pass objects over a person’s head or touch their head or hair. Thai people consider the head sacred and these actions are considered disrespectful.
- When giving gifts or handing something to someone, use both hands. Passing something to someone one-handed can be considered offensive.
- Eat with your spoon instead of your fork when dining. The fork is only used to place food on your spoon.
Where to Find Help with Business Expansion in Thailand
Traveling to Thailand can give you a competitive advantage and increase your chances of making important business contact. By understanding Thailand business culture, religion and social customs, you can show the proper respect to the Thai people and their culture to make a better first impression when visiting Thailand.