The Embassy in Thailand requires all new employees to take a Cross-Cutting Culture in the Workplace Seminar on top of several other trainings and seminars.  Initially, I was less than enthused due to the sheer number of trainings, but it turned out to be the best informational seminar I have attended so far.  This course was about understanding Thai culture and how this permeates into the workplace.  One of the largest themes was, Kreng Jai.

The concept of เกรงใจ (kreng jai) is being aware of other people's feelings and showing politeness, respect, and consideration towards them.  This feeling manifests in the way the Thai people relate to one and other.  Based on my limited one month of observations Thai people very rarely yell at one another and car accidents are handled very calmly.  

Kreng Jai can be slightly problematic in the work place.  Thai people's desires to please can hinder communication between bosses and employees.  It is important for the Thai people to please so they will frequently agree or concur with the boss when they have differing views or think he is making a poor decision.  The presenters cited the example of a boss inviting 8 Thai employees to a dinner party.  All 8 responded yes, but only 5 showed up to the dinner.  At work, the other 3 explained that they had responded "yes they would go" only to avoid disappointing the boss with full knowledge that they couldn't attend.  The desire to please outweighed the desire to be truthful.  In fact, the Thais use the word for "yes" (chai) the way we would say "uh huh."

The usage of yes in the above manner causes more confusion in the workplace.  To Americans, "Yes" implies commitment, ownership, and accountability.  That is not always the case in a Thai work environment.  

As a supervisor of Foreign Service Nationals, which I am not, Embassy employees are taught methods to "deactivate the Kreng Jai" to get input out of the more experienced Thai workers.  These techniques include directly asking questions to Thas staff (and generally before asking superiors) to actively engage the staff, as well as act the "silly aunt or uncle."  Joking and being cheerful allows a comfort between Americans and Thais and allows Thai people to feel more comfortable being honest.

I hope you all learned something.  I know I did.


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