The power of accepting difference, recognising diversity and building trust in cross cultural business relationships

I worked in Thailand in 2003 and was working with one senior executive of the bank who was always impeccably presented. True to Thai custom, we always greeted each other with our hands clasped together in front of our chests and then bowed slightly to each other. So no shaking hands! Thai’s then didn’t shake hands with another man let alone a women, in fact it was very unusual to be in the position I was in as a female in Thailand in the first place. I am only quiet slight and short (5’4″), but I was still taller than most of the senior Thai men and whilst they expect to be shorter than an American male executive they don’t expect to be shorter than a women. In Thailand you also have the issue of ‘face’, but I explained to them that this was no different to them putting me in an awkward situation as the Program Manager, where I might be shown up as incompetent because someone had not done something or told me about an important issue. I spend a lot of time talking these types of issues through with my team because Thai’s don’t like to say no and this can be disastrous when running a large IT program! They soon started to see that we weren’t too different but the major change was the one with the senior executive. I told him that bowing was not natural to me like shaking hands and that maybe one day we could do both. The male American exec’s thought I was mad and said that the Thai exec would never accept me. Well after a short time, he did. He took me into his confidence about his misgivings with the American’s and one day when we were all in a meeting together, the Thai Exec and I met at the door and bowed as usual. Then, he put his hand out to shake mine! This was a remarkable indication of his trust in me, and I was the only ‘Farang‘ (European) male or female whose hand he shook. It was one of the most satisfying things that has ever happened to me.


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