Thailand Business Etiquette

August 29, 2014 | Sharon Cheong

Thai people generally take life (and business) in an easy-going and relaxed manner. They may seem conservative to westerners but they will seldom be offended if a foreigner does not strictly follow Thai business etiquette. However, foreign businessmen should be aware of Thailand's business culture and etiquette.

Thai Business Culture

Traffic in Thailand is horrendous; more so in Bangkok. Traveling in large Thai cities is not easy that businessmen are now conducting and transacting business through remote electronic gadgets.

Thais seldom do business with people they do not respect.  Business relationships are nurtured to flourish so it may take several meetings before a Thai business associate you meet for the first time warms up to you.  In this connection, being courteous and respectful when dealing with Thai businessmen is necessary to build  a harmonious relationship.

Nonverbal communication is valued more than verbal communication. In most instances, Thais find it hard to say “no” and use non-verbal communication to express a negative answer.  You have to watch for your body language and facial expression as Thais consider such expressions more credible than what you verbally say. Thais respect rank. In a group, the eldest person is highly valued.

What Not to Do

Be careful about comments pertaining to Thailand and its king as any negative comment is detrimental to building a relationship with your business associate. Respect all images of the royal family.

Images of Buddha afford respect. Refrain from pointing the soles of your feet in the direction of a Buddha. Do not touch any statue or image of a Buddha and monk.

In Thailand, the head is considered sacred, so do not pass anything over someone's head. The feet are considered dirty, so do not point at anything using your feet.

It is bad manners to use your left hand to receive or pass an object. Pointing with one finger is not acceptable.

When invited to the home of a Thai business associate, remove your shoes before entering. Thais value cleanliness and wearing shoes inside his home Is unacceptable.

Business Etiquette

Thais value personal relationship. They try to get to know their business associates before discussing issues. Relationships cannot be built in a single meeting so expect several meetings  before any business discussion takes place. “Getting to know” meetings generally take place over lunch, drinks or entertainment.

Thais are punctual. It is best to set an appointment for a meeting in advance. Confirm the meeting's details days before the appointed time by calling in and sending over any material for the meeting.

Thais often use body language in communicating. Being sensitive to body language and indirect replies are plus points for you as it would help you avoid misunderstandings and confusions.

Give and receive a business card with your right hand. Read the card and comment on it politely before pocketing it or putting it in a wallet.

General Decorum

Thais are courteous and polite and being one is important in building a relationship with them. Speak softly and smile warmly for positivity.

Causing a Thai to “lose face” by openly criticizing him is unacceptable. If you need to respond negatively, do so indirectly. It is inappropriate to display negative emotions or anger in public.

Do not feel insulted if a Thai business associate asks you several questions the first time you meet. Thai society is a hierarchical and asking you questions establishes your level in the hierarchy.

Thais are family-centered. The hierarchy is evident in the family with the parents on top. A group of individuals is considered more important than an individual.

Proper Greeting

Thais do the wai to greet. To wai is to put your raised hands together as if in prayer with head bowed.  You just cannot do the wai as there are rules on who and how to wai.  A younger person or the one lowest in status  starts the wai. The lower the head, the more respectful it is. A foreigner is not expected to know the rules pertaining to wai, so any mistake is excusable. It is best not to wai if you are unsure,

Gift Giving Etiquette

A Thai does not expect a gift when he invites you to his home; but doing so will be greatly appreciated. If you give a gift, make sure it is beautifully wrapped. Do not use black, green and blue gift wrappers as they are mourning colors. Yellow and gold are royal colors so choose gift wrappers in these colors. When gifting a Chinese Thai, a red gift wrapper is very appropriate. Consider gifting flowers and high quality chocolates and fruits.  When gifting flowers, avoid giving carnations and marigolds as they are associated with funerals.

Business Dress Code

Thai people put much importance on their appearance; the business dress code of Thai businessmen is quite conservative. Men wear white shirts, ties and dark suits. Women wear conservative and tailored suits or dresses. The standard length of a woman's skirt is knee-length. Women's shoulders should be covered. A black dress is unacceptable as it is worn at funerals.  For informal occasions, jeans are acceptable for men and women.

Thai business relationships are more relaxed. Thai business professionals will likely overlook minor mistakes on your part because you are a foreign visitor and have not  had the time to assimilate the culture, customs and etiquette of the Thailand,

Know more about putting up a business in Thailand. Servcorp can help you in this department. Take the first step in establishing a business in Thailand. Call Servcorp now.