Tips for Thais with a Foreign Boss

By Tom Sorensen, [email protected]

When your boss looks serious and stressed, it’s not because she does not like you, care for or respect you. She is just focusing on doing her own job.

You will probably never see your boss doing anything, starring out the window, or reading the newspaper in the office. Don’t wait for that moment because it will never come.

If you want to talk to the boss and the office door is open, it’s the invitation that you can disturb. Knock on the door panel or simply say: Knock-knock, boss, do you have time?

If you are a foreigner managing Thai staff, scroll down to the end and get the most important tip ever.

1. If you disagree, speak out

When you disagree with the boss’s idea or instruction, especially about the deadline or implementation details, please speak out. Be pleasant and straightforward. Do not nod your head and say YES when you don’t mean it.

  • If you realize that you cannot deliver on time what you have promised you should immediately go and tell the boss.
  • Do not wait for the boss to ask how you are doing with the project.
  • Do not wait until 1 minute before your deadline, to tell the boss you are not ready as promised.

Speaking out immediately when you run into challenges will give all involved the chance to make alternative plans, to assist you or if necessary to extend the deadline.

2. Ask questions if you don't know

A modern-style boss will not be angry with you if you ask a question when you don’t know or you don’t understand something. In fact, many bosses, both Thai and foreign, appreciate the fact that you ask questions as it shows you are interested and have a commitment to learning.

3. Admit mistakes

When mistakes happen, the natural tendency is to cover them up. We don’t want people to know, particularly the boss. However, if you tell the boss early that a mistake has been made, it is much easier to take corrective action than if you bottle it up for days, during which time the problem could get worse.

4. Be specific

We have a tendency to beat around the bush. It’s hard for us to talk about problems in a straightforward or direct manner. Don’t talk about the difficulty of communicating in English. Even in Thai too many people beat around the bush until everyone is confused. We may need to be more specific in our communications, both in speaking and writing.

The trigger to tell us that we are not specific enough is when you are asked repeatedly: “What do you mean by that?” If you hear that question four or five times in one conversation, the chances are that you are not being specific enough.

Many foreigners will tell you: Please come to me with solutions, don’t come with only a problem.’

5. Keep people up-to-date

Most bosses want to know how their subordinates’ work is progressing. Report progress and regularly provide updates. However, frequently your boss wants to update, provide information that fits his preferred communication style – email, memos, face-to-face talks or phone calls.

Ask the boss directly which style he prefers or ask the secretary or a close colleague of the boss.

6. Good morning and bye-bye

In Western culture, colleagues always greet each other by “good morning”, “good afternoon” or some other form of greeting. And at the end of the working day, it is a polite and an appreciated gesture to say “bye-bye”, “see you tomorrow” or something similar. Your foreign boss will appreciate these greetings.

The most important tip for foreigners with Thai staff

Do not and ever think that your Thai staff know your personal preferences to the following – and why the most important tip is that you must tell everyone exactly how you want things done the first day in office.

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