Bangkok post> Jobs > Career guide

Coaching an expat boss who’s new in Thailand

David is a new country manager in Thailand. After reading my book Bridging the Gap, he agreed to hire me to coach him on how to work with Thai people. This is our first coaching session.

“Coach Kriengsak, what are the do’s and don’ts for me as a new expat manager in Thailand?” he asks as we begin.

“David, have you finished my book?”

“Yes, I read it twice since it’s quite a short and entertaining as well.”

“David, normally when you read any book, what are your reactions?”

“Coach, basically, I have three opinions after I read any book: I agree with some parts, I disagree with others, and I’m not sure about some parts. I had the same three reactions to your book.”

“Great! Let’s discuss it then. Which parts do you agree with?”

“Coach, first of all, I think this is a great book for a new expat in Thailand. Before I started reading it, I looked at other readers’ comments on ‘Concise and well written guide to the understanding of Thai culture. ... Excellent window into Thai culture. Business front and centre but also a useful guide for anyone living in Thailand. ... I think all western companies should give this book to all of their employees who will be heading to Thailand. ... This is a book you should hang on to after the initial reading as a reminder every time you’re scratching your head over an unresolved issue. Well-written, easy to understand with excellent examples, a definite must-buy.’

“In my personal view, here are the points I agree with: Thai people are unique; winning their hearts is the first step; Thais value hierarchy, authority and respect very highly.”

“What about those parts that you disagree with?”

“Coach, I disagree with the emphasis on being patient, and also the notion that all Thais are less assertive.”

“Good. Which aspects of the book are you not sure about?”

“Coach, if I follow the book literally, will I lose my authenticity?”

“Excellent question, David. I’d like to discuss that after we’ve talked about some of your more immediate concerns. What other questions do you have?”

“Coach, how can I be patient when my head office is not? In my case, my regional boss in Singapore has given me 12 months to turn around the business in Thailand. I need to produce a quick win in the first three months.”

“I understand. What kind of quick win do you plan?”

“I think we can improve the bottom line through effective cost management. But that will hurt a lot of people’s feelings.”

“What would be an alternative quick win for you, then?”

“I guess I have to win Thai hearts first.”


“I think I’ll start by gauging the morale of the people who report directly to me. I will ask 10 direct reports to answer this question: What do you feel right now about the current situation, on a scale of 1 to 10, where equals the most comfortable feeling at work and 1 equals the least. I will use these responses as a benchmark, and after three months I will ask them the same question again.

“My first goal is to understand my people and find a way to win their hearts. If after three months, they trust me, I think that in the following nine months we can turn around the business together.”

I nod.

“Coach, then I need to communicate to my boss in Singapore about my quick-win plan. That way, I hope he will not push me so hard for results until I have won people’s trust first.”

“I agree. What is your next question?”

“From your book, I feel that you labelled all Thais as the same. But I can see differences based on the changing demographic in my company. Thirty percent of them are Generation Y, 50% are baby boomers and the other 20% are mixed. The Gen Y staff are well-educated and quite assertive. What you said may not be applicable to this group.”

“I totally agree. So, what should you do?’

“Coach, I have to observe each person first. Some might be comfortable with my Western straightforward style and some might not be.”

“Good. What other concerns do you have?”

“Coach, now I’m back to the question I asked earlier: if I follow the book literally, I will lose my authenticity.”

“Yes, if you follow it to the letter, you will become a parrot. What do you think you will do?”

“I think this book tells me about what Thais are. It creates awareness. But there are several things that are quite generic practices for any nationality such as: listening shows you care; integrity is the same everywhere; scolding people is not acceptable.

“My take-away from all this is that I need to have better self-awareness of my behaviour in the beginning. Observe and adjust.”

“That’s good. Let’s stop our session here.”

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