Managing Ego in Thailand
One problem we are often asked about is that of managing colleagues’ ego in Thailand. And, as we saw in a previous post here, managing ego can be a real challenge, and is especially acute in Thailand and Asia where Face is of great significance. Face and Ego, in fact, are closely entwined, as we shall see.
Managing ego in Thailand is becoming a bigger problem as the country internationalises – and when people from other countries are unaware of what exactly constitutes ‘Thai culture’ and what they need to be sensitive to, and what not. Bring in a business context of customers and colleagues and the tinderbox beneath many professionals’ egos are well and truly lit!
What is ‘ego’ exactly?
Ego has two definitions: first it can be considered as a person’s self-esteem. Secondly, it can be considered as a state of mind where a person is considered separate from another. Now, this creates an interesting dilemma for people (like Thais) living in collective (as opposed to individualist) societies. Because, as these societies Westernise, they inevitably pick up the ‘ego’ messages in marketing and behaviour, which can create enormous tensions for their naturally ‘collective’ selves.
These tensions then often manifest themselves in insecure reactions and behaviours which is exactly what colleagues try to avoid, and brings us back to our question – how can we best manage ‘ego’ in Asia? – And especially when…
- giving bad news
- asking another person to stop or change a behaviour
- questioning another person on a decision, progress, or course of action
- creating a new goal or setting a new expectation
Understanding the ‘human’
Expat managers are often inducted in cross-cultural programmes on their arrival to Thailand and other Asian countries that familiarise them with a list of ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’. Unfortunately, these dos and donts rarely dig under the surface and managers then struggle to know ‘how far they can go’ to manage behavioural and professional issues without upsetting the person concerned – perhaps for life!
Ridiculous as this may sound in a professional context, it’s worth bearing in mind that in many parts of Asia this is reality.
But understanding this in a cross-cultural context is of little help. First we must start with the human and with some of the paradoxes… and tensions… that we all have. Here is probably the ‘root’ of tensions we feel evey day:
The soul wants to do what is good.
The body wants to do what feels good.
The ego wants to do what looks good.
How to manage the ego in Thailand and Asia
The above three drivers confuse the best of us. In many parts of Asia, it’s often considered that what’s best for the body is best for all (the collective).
The key definition is always one of intent. The magic question: ‘What was your intention when you did that?’ helps work backwards towards the definition above so that you can then identify ‘ego’, ‘body’ and ‘soul’ values and activities.
It’s also important to approach situations like this with a mindset of correction as opposed to one of punishment. In many cases Asians will welcome being corrected, but if the ‘ego’ of the ‘corrector’ gets in the way, this may be misconstrued as punishment.
Granted, working back to discover and appraise intent is not so easy to do in the crucible of day-to-day professional workloads. This is why you may want to have a look at 3 programmes where we help resolve ego issues: Emotional Intelligence, Overcoming the Five Dysfunctions of a Team and Cross-Cultural Competence.
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