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Reforming Thai attitudes in the workplace

The political instability in Thailand will not be ending soon. There is no more BAU Business As Usual. We are living in the "New Normal" everyday.

There has been lots of talk about "reform". Today I want to propose a new element: Thai Attitude Reform.

For many years I have observed that a lot of Thai people bring their Thai values to the workplace. These values are: sabai sabai (easy-going), mai pen rai (it doesn't matter), kreng jai (consideration), rak sa nah (saving face), awuso (seniority), and hai kiat (respect).

While these attitudes are appropriate in social contexts, they hinder workplace productivity. Eventually, they damage the bottom line. In difficult times such as this year, such indulgences are a luxury we can no longer afford.

Being aware of these attitudes and trying to exhibit them less in the workplace will help every organisation shape up for the better.

Let's look at how each attitude translates into counterproductive behavior at work. I will then propose how we can reform each attitude and translate that into more effective behaviour.

Sabai Sabai: People come to work late and leave the office early. Work processes are sluggish.

Reforms: We should arrive at the office earlier than the official start of work and spend time preparing for the whole day. We should do the work with enthusiasm.

Mai Pen Rai: Everything can wait. Don't give feedback about other people's mistakes. Allow people to come late for meetings.

Reforms: Clear the work in front of you as soon as it arrives. When things go wrong, give constructive feedback to others. Inform those who arrive late to be on time next time.

Kreng Jai: Always express things vaguely so as not to make others uncomfortable or give offence. Beat around the bush.

Reforms: Communicate more specifically. Be straightforward but polite.

Rak Sa Nah: Ignore it when you see something wrong. Don't argue in meetings.

Reforms: Have the courage to inform someone when you see something incorrect. Be courageous enough to express disagreement in a constructive way.

Awuso: Inability to delegate work to those who are older. Avoiding debate with those who are senior.

Reforms: Be courageous and delegate to those who are older. Prepare an appropriate approach but be direct and polite. Be brave enough to disagree with senior person but have facts and figures to support your case.

Hai Kiat: Don't challenge others in meetings. This is the silo mentality the tendency not to comment on other people's business responsibilities.

Reforms: Show the courage to disagree in meetings but with politeness. Adopt an entrepreneurial mentality be courageous enough to make comments and suggestions about areas outside your own immediate concern if they are for the benefit of the organisation.

What's in it for you? Reforming the above attitudes is not easy, I have to admit. You have to be convinced. Otherwise, it will be just another case of NATO "No Action, Talk Only".

People who have a reformed attitude will gain a more professional mindset, more maturity, and more recognition from the people surrounding you. As well, you will get things done more effectively and you'll be in the spotlight for senior management.

So how can you reform? There are several approaches you can use to start. It depends on each individual's motivation, values and style. You could start by yourself, or with help from a friend, a mentor, or even your boss.No matter what approach you choose, you have to make it more actionable. The following guidelines could help:

1. Identify what to change: What behaviours do I want to change? List as many as you can.

2. Prioritise your reforms. Which ones should I start with? Pick two or three by using these criteria: the change is doable, and has a high impact on the organisation. Finally, it's visible people will notice easily is for example, you start showing up early for work or meetings.

3. Implement them. Ensure that you carry out these new behaviours for at least a few weeks until they become habits. Plan some reminders to ensure that you won't give up before they become "New Normal".

4. Reward yourself. Other people might not notice but you do. Pat yourself on the back, or choose any approach that suits you.

5. Ask for some feedback. Ask people who have good judgement for their views and make corrections as necessary.

6. Be prepared to deal with some resentment. When you're trying to leave your comfort zone, some of the people surrounding you may feel insecure. They might discourage you or try to pull you back to the same comfort zone they occupy. Don't fool yourself by stopping your new behaviour. Think about those benefits I mentioned earlier. Look forward not backward.

7. Once you've carried out some of your own reforms, invite others to join you. Then, you can continue to expand the changes.

As the Persian poet Rumi once observed: "Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself."

Kriengsak Niratpattanasai provides executive coaching in leadership and diversity management under the brand TheCoach. He can be reached at Daily inspirational quotations can be found on his Facebook fan page: Previous articles are archived at