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Thai management style guide

Cross Cultural Management Guide for Thailand


The insights offered below are for managers who want to learn more about the management style and business culture of Thailand.


It provides some useful information for managers who are relocating to the country for employment as well as those who may have Thai employees in their global or multicultural teams.

Topics include:

  • Hierarchy
  • Leadership style
  • Time and scheduling
  • Communication style
  • Negotiation


Management in Thailand

The Thai management style is characterized by a paternalistic approach, personal relationships, respect for authority and hierarchy, indirect communication, group harmony, and flexibility. Understanding and respecting these cultural values is crucial to building relationships and achieving business success in Thailand.

  • People observe a strict chain of command, which comes with expectations on both sides.
  • Managers are expected to provide guidance, instruction, and supervision to their subordinates. Employees are expected to follow instructions and defer to their managers' decisions.
  • To keep others from losing face, communication is often non-verbal and subtle.

The Role of a Manager

Thailand's management style is strongly influenced by its cultural values, which prioritize harmonious relationships, respect for authority, and a sense of hierarchy.

  • Thai managers tend to adopt a paternalistic approach, where they act as father figures and take responsibility for the well-being of their employees.
  • Managers will be more effective working in Thailand if they keep in mind that each person has a very distinct role within the organization, and maintaining that role helps to keep order.
  • Building personal relationships is crucial in Thai business culture.
  • It is essential to spend time getting to know your colleagues, and building trust and respect.
  • Thai managers prefer to work with people they know and trust so nepotism is still accepted.

Approach to Change

Thailand’s acceptance of change is low. Its conservatism means that change can often be seen as a threat to the group or collective harmony.

  • Managers are therefore likely to be averse to change and it is essential that any changes are viewed as positive for the ‘whole’ and not just an individual.
  • Of course, change does happen, but effective management in Thailand needs to take into account that any change is going to take longer to implement.
  • Maintaining group harmony is essential in Thai culture.
  • Managers strive to create a positive work environment where employees feel comfortable and supported.
  • They encourage teamwork and cooperation and avoid confrontations or conflicts.

Approach to Time and Priorities

Time, as with deadlines and timescales, is fluid. Patience is the key to successful working in Thailand.

  • Essentially a relationship-driven culture, it should be understood that taking the time to get to know someone will always take precedence over any timelines.
  • Don’t rush the relationship-building process or you may jeopardise any future business dealings.
  • When working with people from Thailand, it’s advisable to reinforce the importance of the agreed-upon deadlines and how that may affect the rest of the organization.
  • However, it isn’t unusual for a manager in Thailand to avoid confrontation over a deadline in order to maintain a positive relationship within the team.
  • Global working means that some managers may have a greater appreciation of the need to enforce timescales and as such, agreed deadlines are more likely to be met.

Decision Making

Many older Thai companies still adhere to a rigid hierarchy, although this is starting to change in many multi-nationals, entrepreneurial companies, and those that do business with foreigners on a regular basis.

  • This is a country where rank not only has its privileges but also comes with clear-cut responsibilities.
  • Employees show respect and deference to their managers and in return, managers know their subordinates' personal situations and offer advice and guidance wherever it is needed.
  • In more entrepreneurial companies, this may be changing.
  • Thai managers tend to be flexible and adaptable.
  • They are comfortable with ambiguity and are willing to adjust their plans or strategies as circumstances change.
  • They are also open to feedback and input from their subordinates.

Boss or Team Player?

Due to the hierarchical set up in Thailand, it is important that the manager maintains his / her role as ‘boss’ and engenders the necessary respect from within the team.

  • When the manager needs to work collectively with his / her team however, then it is important that the need to work collectively is stated and that the team is encouraged to operate openly in a non-threatening environment.
  • If an individual makes any contributions which are seen as not useful or necessary, the manager needs to deal with this sensitively.
  • It is essential that the individual does not feel shamed in front of his/her colleagues and that the rest of the group feel able to continue participating and offering their contributions.

Communication and Negotiation Styles

Personal relationships are crucial to conducting business. Relationships are based on respect and trust. It takes time to develop a comfortable working relationship and patience may be a necessary attribute.

  • Thai people tend to be indirect in their communication style.
  • They may use non-verbal cues, such as facial expressions, tone of voice, or body language to convey their message.
  • Managers are expected to be sensitive to these cues and to read between the lines.
  • Thais are non-confrontational and therefore it is rare for them to overtly disagree.
  • Hence, bear in mind that "yes" may not mean agreement in the way most Westerners understand the term.
  • It may mean, "I am saying this so you will stop talking about the subject".
  • Thai negotiation style is characterized by a preference for indirect communication and a focus on building personal relationships.
  • Thai negotiators may use non-verbal cues or subtle hints to convey their message and avoid direct confrontation.
  • They prioritize maintaining group harmony and avoiding loss of face for both parties.

Thai cultural training

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