You should make an appointment for a meeting in Thailand a few weeks in advance and confirm it shortly before. Send an agenda as well, but keep in mind that it should only serve as a rough guide for the topics to be discussed.
Meetings in Thailand sometimes start on time and sometimes not. This is because punctuality is not very important here. Time is cyclical. What cannot be done today will be postponed until tomorrow.
Meetings therefore only begin when all or at least the most important people are there. However, as a foreign guest, you should still arrive as punctually as possible.
Meetings reflect the strong hierarchical structure of Thai companies with a sophisticated seating arrangement. If you are travelling to the meeting with several colleagues, you should therefore send a list of participants in advance so that they can all be placed correctly.
Wait in the meeting room until you are assigned your seat.
Basically, Thai people communicate indirectly and diplomatically. Any statements that higher-ups make are also never questioned during the meeting! Also, don’t expect lower-ranking staff to speak up in meetings. You’ll only hear questions—if any – from the head of the company or department.
If a topic is of particular importance, it is brought up several times. Critical issues, on the other hand, are touched upon, quickly dropped when disagreements arise and then carefully taken up again at a later point. Once unity and harmony have been achieved in a difficult area, another sensitive issue can be raised again. Therefore, you must work your way slowly and in a circular fashion to the critical points and not insist on following the agenda points in sequence.
In a very open, heated or confrontational discussion, as is may be the case in cultures that communicate more directly, Thai people will feel cornered very quickly. They will feel that they have lost face and may even break off the meeting.
However, depending on the context, a more direct style of communication can also be used, for example on technical issues or between colleagues on the same hierarchical level who are familiar with each other.
Present with respect
If you are holding a presentation in a meeting with Thai business partners, you should always address the senior executives in the room directly. Accompanying information material, handouts, etc. must always be given to the highest-ranking people first.
If possible, a presentation should not last longer than one hour. Limit yourself to the most important points or facts, but explain them in detail. Make sure that your core statements are not at the beginning but in the second third of the presentation. The first third of a presentation is more of a “warm-up phase” in Thailand. The key statements can also be repeated at the end. In Thailand, redundancy is relevant; point out important things as often as possible.
Questions at the end
Because they don’t want to embarrass you as a presenter, your Thai listeners will hesitate to ask questions or make critical remarks. Even if they have not understood what you are saying, they will not ask questions, instead, they will nod and smile in agreement.
That is why you should always try to read between the lines. A short, inconspicuous remark may, for instance, be a critical comment.
You will only be contacted with specific comments or questions in private after your presentation. It will be appreciated if you then have enough time for discussions.