Verbal and Non-Verbal Communication Styles in Thailand

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Thais place great emphasis and value on outward forms of courtesy such as politeness, respect, genial demeanor and self-control in order to maintain harmonious relations. Many of their rules of etiquette are a result of the Buddhist religion. It is a non-confrontational society, in which public dispute or criticism is to be avoided at all costs. To be openly angry with someone might attract the wrath of the spirits, which in turn could cause violence and tragedy. Openly criticizing a person is a form of violence as it hurts the person and is viewed as a conscious attempt to offend the person being rebuked. Loss of face is a disgrace to a Thai so they try to avoid confrontations and look for compromises in difficult situations. If two parties disagree, one will need to have an outlet to retreat without losing face.

Thais respect hierarchical relationships. Social relationships are defined as one person being superior to the other. Parents are superior to their children, teachers to their students, and bosses to their subordinates. When Thais meet a stranger, they will immediately try to place you within a hierarchy so they know how you should be treated. This is often done by asking what might be seen as very personal questions in other cultures. Status can be determined by clothing and general appearance, age, job, education, family name, and social connections.

The traditional form of greeting is the wai, given by the person of lower status to the person of higher status (raising both hands, palms joined with the fingers pointing upwards as if in prayer, lightly touching the body somewhere between the chest and the forehead). Thais generally use first rather than surnames, with the honorific title Khun before the name. Khun is an all- purpose form of address that is appropriate for both men and women. In general, it’s best to wait for your host and hostess to introduce you to the other guests. This allows everyone to understand your status...
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