WHEN a new expat executive comes to town he or she is often bombarded with advice on handling culture shock Thailand but in fact many are over-adjusting to Thais, David Bell, CEO of Crestcom-Ra-Kahng Thailand said on Monday.
This is very apparent in managers who have not been here very long because they are very inhibited about checking things out very carefully as they are afraid of upsetting their staff.
“I don’t know whether they hear it from their staff or whether they just get the impression from reading things, but they think they have got to be really careful with the way they treat people, they mustn’t do things like they really feel because their staff will be upset, mustn’t expect too much from people.
“I think they get laughed at quite a lot by the Thais and I think they don’t necessarily get as much cooperation as they would have if they treated people like real people.”
Mr Bell added that new expat executives tend to think Thais are very, very different and although they are different they are not very, very different and the things that work with people, such as being nice, understanding and showing respect, in fact works across various cultures including this one.
It is worth remembering that local staff will sometimes hide behind their culture so that they don’t have to do things or just to make things difficult.
“I don’t mean that in a nasty way to Thais and think it’s a natural thing – you’ll find it when you go anywhere.”
Newcomers are cautioned about obsolete advice they might get from expatriates who have been here very long but are actually out of touch with the Thai culture which has changed a lot over the years because all cultures constantly grow, change and mutate.
“Education is becoming more international, the media has become much more international and communications like Kobkid.com, ThaiResidents.com and Thaivisa.com changes the way people think a lot.”
Sometimes companies send their new executives for cross-cultural training but Mr Bell suspects they are taught stuff that is quite out of date.
“Be over-conservative and over-careful, whereas I think it’s better for the Thais if you say straight, ‘this is what I think, what do you think?’ than to pretend that you must be sensitive about it.”
While there is no denying that things are different here, Mr Bell thinks it is more in the old school part of the society with the younger people and those better educated being more switched on and much more like the West than ever before.
“You know when I first came here a few years ago you couldn’t take your secretary for lunch because she would immediately be labeled a prostitute because she is with a foreigner in a restaurant – far cry from that.”
TOP: An expat boss working hard at an office in Bangkok. Photo: Mike Darnell (BNIUnitedBKK.com)
INSET: Mr Bell thinks new expat executives sometimes get laughed at by their Thai staff.
By Nina Suebsukcharoen