BRIDGING THE GAP
'Coach, I'm new here in Thailand," Sam tells me. "I want to build trust among Thais as soon as possible."
"Sam, what's your plan?"
"I have to get to know the people who work with me first."
"Have people already formed an opinion about you before they met you?"
"They searched for information about me once they knew I'd be on board. They probably checked on me with their friends and networks."
"That's right, Sam. So what kind of opinion do you think they might have formed about you based on their informal intelligence?"
"They would learn I'm an achiever. I have accumulated achievements for the past 10 years with the company. I am impatient. I want to get things done fast. I'm a results-oriented person."
"Sam, did you read my book, Bridging the Gap?"
"I finished it over the weekend."
"What did you learn about Thais?"
"Thais greatly value relationships, seniority and face-saving."
"Okay, let's compare the perceptions that Thais have already formed about you before they meet you and your perceptions about Thais. What do you see?"
"I think people will anticipate I'm an action man with a results-oriented and impatient side. But they prefer people who care and value relationships."
"Sam, back to the trust issue, what would be your next move?"
"Coach, I have to build relationships first. That's my priority."
"I will start by meeting all my direct reports in a group first. I'll tell them about my values, styles and mission. I will tell them that in the first three months, I want to build relationships with them first. Hence, I will spend time with them, both individually and in groups. They will teach me about themselves, the organisational culture, Thai culture and the market. I will be their student. I will learn and listen to them."
"That's a good plan, Sam. How are you on listening skills?"
"It depends. If I'm in learning mode, I'll focus and pay attention. But if it's in an area where I have expertise, I tend to have an answer in my head already."
"Sam, what will happen when you listen to them in the first three months?"
"I think mostly I will be good at listening to them."
"That's good. What could go wrong?"
"Coach, I probably could fall into the 'expert trap' even though I plan to listen and learn from them, because I'm new here. Nevertheless, I've had 40 years' experience working with people from other parts of the world and have already formed a lot of assumptions about people. Then I might think I know what people think _ but I might be wrong."
"How will you prevent this?"
"I have to maintain my self-awareness that I want to build trust by building relationships first. I want to learn and understand Thais before I can work with them effectively. That's supposed to be the fast way."
"Sam, how often do you think you have to remind yourself about self-awareness?"
"Every day. In addition I want you to follow up this self-awareness every two weeks that we meet."
"I won't, Sam."
"Because if I follow up on you, then I'm the one who becomes accountable, and this is about you. How do you plan to make it your accountability?"
"Right, I get it. I will report to you how well I'm doing."
"That's good, Sam. What else do you think you can do to ensure that you build trust effectively?"
"I can't think of anything. What do you think?"
"Based on my experience, most expats are impatient and they struggle with jai-yen or calm patience. They perceive that things seem to be ineffective and slow in Thailand. Eventually, they form an opinion that Thais are either ineffective or lazy. And Thais form an opinion that the expat is inconsiderate or selfish. How do you prevent this impatience trap?"
"That's a difficult thing for me. Because time is money."
"Why do you think time is money?"
"Because every minute that's gone I will not be able to take back. I have to create something in each minute. For example, this morning at 7am, my notebook wasn't working because of a virus. I called the IT help desk. Nobody picked up the line. I had to call back again 10 minutes later. That's 10 minutes lost, and I was unable to bring them back."
"How did you feel?"
"I was upset."
"What did you do?"
"I was calm and tried to be patient. At 8am, my secretary came. I told her about the situation, calmly. She said I was patient."
"Sam, you didn't lose 10 minutes, you traded the time by gaining trust from your secretary."
"Ah! I didn't waste my time then. I invested it in a relationship."
Kriengsak Niratpattanasai provides executive coaching in leadership and diversity management under TheCoach brand. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His columns are available at www.thaicoach.com
About the author
- Writer: Kriengsak Niratpattanasai