Working with Thai Students – Four Fundamental Values
It is not easy to describe a nation or a country simply since people should be considered as individuals, but there are definitely some national characteristics in Thailand that make it very different from any other country. When in the Western world, especially in Europe, we need a lot of space and privacy and are often expected to be able to work unprompted, in Thailand things are done collectively. There are no âI'sâ in a team, literally. Understanding how these teams work and their sometimes not so obvious hierarchy it is much easier to adapt and be accepted as a part of them.
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This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Anniina R.
This subject is very extensive and multi-dimensional and there are lots of those subtle unwritten rules that many are unaware of even if they have done their cultural homework. Everyone who studies Thai culture knows that the country is known as a âLand of Smilesâ, but those smiles hide various feelings that can be very difficult to interpret even after living in Thailand for a longer period. Life here is so group-orientated that sometimes Thais can even seem indifferent to what is happening right outside their own circle and for them, it's just how they live their lives.
Even if it may seem confusing to an outsider to figure out all these peculiarities in Thai culture, there are a few things that can be explained to help us to fit in. Not taking into account the obvious ones, such as 'don't show your anger and lose your temper', or 'do not point anything with your feet' but a real peek to the real soul landscape of a Thai.
'Kreng jai' - one of the most important and intriguing of Thai concepts is the term 'kreng jai' and at the same time the most difficult for expatriates to comprehend. For a Thai, it is used in all situations when nurturing good human relationships so there should be some kind of understanding how it works too. 'Kreng jai' is an attitude where an individual restrains his own interests or desires if they might lead to discomfort or conflict with the people with who it is more valuable to maintain a pleasant and cooperative relationship. Just one of the many examples of 'kreng jai' at work could be a situation where an employee has been unhappy at work for a while and resigns, instead of troubling the boss with the actual cause of unhappiness.
'Hai kiad' - as a part of the community, every Thai seeks 'kiad'; honor and respect. The use of Thai greeting 'wai' is most known amongst expatriates. Usually, the junior is obligated to show respect to the senior. A 'wai' is also used as a thank you, especially in case of accepting a present or a formal award. If a 'wai' is given to you, it should be returned. Westerners are not expected to 'wai' first, but a 'wai' should at least be acknowledged with a nod or a smile. 'Hai kiad' is used as a motivator for example in a situation where the boss praises an idea in front of others, or when during a meeting treats even the poorest ideas gently and respectfully.
'Nam Jai' - can be translated as 'water from the heart' and is a genuine act of kindness towards someone that you know or even a stranger, without expecting nothing in return. Giving 'nam jai' normally happens unexpectedly. A team might have been working overtime trying to beat the deadline and a manager spontaneously invites everyone to have dinner or drinks together after the work is finished. Showing this kind of 'nam jai' towards a hard-working team will without fail lift up the team spirit and commit them to keep up the good work.
'Hen jai' â a good supervisor or manager is expected to have the ability to 'hen jai' that translates 'see into the heart'. When the boss can 'hen jai' they have got an understanding and empathy toward their subordinates and their duties. When a person has made a mistake, instead of giving them a hard time for it the boss tries to find out what is going on in their life, taking the humane approach to the matter. This is seen as a very merciful attitude and bosses who show 'hen jai' are invariably respected. It doesn't mean that all mistakes are accepted or swept under the rug, it just shows that the boss can âread the gameâ and leads with empathy.
As a part of a global market, Thailand has had to adapt to Western management methods and to a new set of rules and modes of operations. Those new ways may have brought them success too, but the old ways still abide. And why shouldn't they? If a person decides to move to work in Thailand, shouldn't they be the ones to adapt to the existing norms? By understanding these four fundamental Thai values will certainly help in the process.
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