Managing in Thailand: Common Mistakes Foreign Managers Make with Local Employees

Posted by | 28/02/2017 | Recruiters Corner, Thailand Working Guide

If you work as a foreigner in Thailand then you will know that adjusting to the local culture and mentality in the place of work is hard enough. It is even harder if you are the boss in the company with a majority of Thai locals, however, there are so many things to keep in mind. The mindset of the people of Thailand is not exactly like that of the western world. This can result in a breach between employees and employer which will result to the expat boss being disillusioned and isolated with a high turnover of staff and ultimately business failure.

A foreign leader can avoid all these issues and enjoy living and work successfully in this amazing country by investing in little time, care and effort. It is important that Thai colleagues, friends, and clients share their stories so one can learn from them.


Here are some mistakes foreign bosses make in Thailand:

1. Concluding that our mindset work the same way

Do not assume that an employee will understand or perform a work correctly when you assign a task to them. Instead of assuming, ensure that you ask them to repeat your instructions in order that you have an agreed understanding. Be patient with them and repeat your instructions as many times as you can so that they understand, be open to going through a few failures before you can finally know the best way to communicate with them. Thai people like to please their bosses, this is part of their culture and values and they hate to bother their bosses with minor problems or bad news. This can escalate into a big problem if the issue is not treated on time.

2. Disregarding the Thai Culture

The culture of the Thai people is very different from the western culture. There are some expectations that come with being the boss. This does not matter if you are a native. What is expected of you is to acts according to the common Thai practice. Ensure you uphold the basic principles in order avoid disrespect which can result in ”losing face”, seniority and unnecessary familiarity. Read about the Thai culture and embrace their language at least the basics. In order to gain respect from your subordinates, it is important that you make effort.

3. Let Thais ‘Lose Face’

Although it is okay to criticize an idea in the western world, pointing out its shortcomings etc., this is not allowed in the Thai culture. Using a failure example is also very frowned at. This is because pointing out their shortcomings will let them lose face amongst their peers and subordinates, as this will affect their position within the natural hierarchy of the organization. Publicly criticizing people is really frowned at, however, it is best to discuss shortcomings and proffer solutions behind closed doors.

4. Focusing on only results

Thai subordinates often commend the foreigners for being target driven. They communicate clearly the goal of the company and what is expected of their staff, this allows them to know exactly where they are. Although being too focused can result to a negative effect. It is important to find a balance between being result oriented and people oriented, by taking the time to learn and build relationships with your subordinates. Be informed on what drives them; engage in team lunch and other social events like karaoke. It is more likely you yield a better result if you find the right balance instead of piling on the unnecessary pressure to arrive at a target.

5. By being angry, emotional or too friendly!

The Thai business culture does not do well with emotions. The major emotion to stay away from is anger. Because the Thai people are generally peaceful, if you get angry you might likely “lose face”. You will lose the respect of your team if you lose your temper in front of them and there might be no redemption. Your team members might feel intimidated, withdraw and will likely agree to what they do not mean.

Although praising the people in the public is good but if you are enthusiastic about a particular individual it can result to favoritism and this might make the other team members isolate the person. Ensure that avoid favoritism and be consistent in your criticism.

There are many more points we can go into but this is a good starting point. You will not get it right on your first try, but be patient and willing to learn from your mistakes. Also, practice the Doe’s and Don’ts of daily life in Thailand at your workplace. Take time to relax, listen, smile and enjoy your new environment and its people. This will make the transition and assimilation of culture so much easier.

Kindly share with us other suggestions on how foreign managers can adapt and improve the Thai working place.


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