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46 Tamerlaine Beasley 3 Intercultural Realities: Working in Thailand Tamerlaine Beasley In this chapter I would like to offer some practical examples from real life of what foreign business people encounter when they work in Thailand. Much is said about the challenges of doing business in Thailand. There are a lot of books on how to, and how not to do business across cultures, so what is the reality? Most of what I have to say is based on the experience of my company, Beasley Intercultural, which assists clients to better navigate the complexities of working globally. It is really tough working globally for a lot of our clients. We don’t only focus on Thailand; we work across the Asia-Pacific region and we are doing increasing amounts of consulting in China and India. What we help our clients with is: “How do you navigate these complexities?” We use the term “navigate” because as I am going to explain today, it is not necessarily appropriate for Australians to learn to behave like Thai people or Thais to learn how to behave like Australians. How do you navigate the differences and get the job done? That is what we focus on. So we provide consultancy and training services and we are doing increasing amounts of consultancy work in intercultural management, pre-departure, orientation and re-entry. Intercultural communications issues in virtual teams are increasingly important. For example, how do you work with people using teleconferencing when 03 ThaiEcoRecovery Ch 3 5/5/06, 10:00 AM 46 Reproduced from Thailand's Economic Recovery edited by Cavan Hogue (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2006). This version was obtained electronically direct from the publisher on condition that copyright is not infringed. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the prior permission of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. Individual articles are available at Intercultural Realities: Working in Thailand 47 there may be six to eight different countries represented? We work with government and have a contract to do all pre-departure and re-entry teams with the Youth Ambassadors. That is, about 240 young people each year going to live and work in the Asia-Pacific region. We work with the Australian Embassy in Bangkok, and with corporate clients. We work with a variety of different organizations dealing with these types of issues. I would like to start off with the mythology of doing business in Thailand. There is a huge mythology about doing business in Thailand and a lot of it can be found in the bookstores of many airports in the region. One of the first myths is that Thai culture is so unbelievably complex, that you need to understand everything about it before you can be effective. And a lot of that involves remembering very complex rules about politeness. The second myth I believe is that the biggest danger in working in Asia is in causing offence through doing something impolite. There are far bigger risks when working in business in the Asia-Pacific region than doing something impolite! The third myth is that the business rules are all different. One of the key competencies in working in the Asia-Pacific region, I believe, is maintaining your sense of commonsense in doing business. The rules of business in many ways do still say the same. Let us consider some of the realities. Everyone has as much culture as everyone else; we all possess this thing called “culture”. One of the biggest challenges I find with working with Western expatriates in the Asia-Pacific region is they think that, in the Thai context, culture is something that Thais have. And that Thai culture is problematic sometimes gets in the way of doing business. Whenever two people come together in any encounter, whether it be business, government or academia, there are two cultures coming together. No one is culturally neutral. When I interact in Thailand, I bring my “Australianness” to any interaction. This is something we often forget when we’re working with people from other cultures. Australians, very dangerously I believe, think that the way we do things is normal and that culture is some bizarre rituals about how to be polite. Then there is the whole concept of the inscrutable oriental and of Asians having these strange cultural things that make things difficult. Often we will find that clients come to us and say “we’re working in China and we don’t want to offend...


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