Workplace gossip is pretty common. There’s always a rumour floating around about what someone got up to at the Christmas party. But in my experience it’s normally harmless fun and indulging in a little gossip is a nice interlude.
In Thailand, it’s so much more than this. It genuinely seems to determine the effectiveness of your entire team. No matter what you’re doing to manage workload and engagement, the complexities of the individual relationships actually make the real difference.
There is so much going on behind the scenes that Farang managers will never know about, nor understand. Right now, there are so many people within my extended team who are not speaking to each other I’m surprised anything is getting done!
A Little Respect…
From what I’ve observed so far, it all seems to boil down to respect, or lack thereof. As a Farang, I feel somewhat protected from the ‘respect’ conundrum in Thailand. During the Cross-Cultural Management course (as described in The Cross-Cultural Challenge – Part 2), we learned that Farangs sit outside the hierarchy of Thai society. It seems there’s a default respect for Farangs even if they don’t do much to earn it. For me, it means that I don’t really have to worry that much about people respecting me, but also that I will never truly be let into or understand the inner workings of our workplace community.
Too Big for Their Boots?
The latest series of fallouts mostly involve young colleagues apparently not showing enough respect to their elders. This is a difficult one for me. In my younger working life, I was encouraged to step outside my comfort zone and take chances. I was often involved in projects that were ‘above my paygrade’, so to speak. And actually, my empowering management style has only encouraged the younger staff to take more initiative.
The unfortunate side effect is that they seem to have got ‘too big for their boots’ and are now calling out their more senior colleagues quite publicly. Maybe they are being a bit rude but I imagine they’re probably touching a nerve! Anyway, it doesn’t seem that I can have much influence on any of this other than to make it worse. So I need to let it play out.
The other observation I’ve made is that once two people have fallen out and declared themselves enemies, there is no going back. There are two representatives of my main customer with adjacent offices who will not even look at each other let alone speak to each other! Actually, if they do ever have to attend the same meeting, they will sometimes have an almighty spat which is both bizarre and entertaining to witness.
And generally, nobody knows why they fell out in the first place. Or the reason is just inexplicably complex, far too much for my Farang brain to comprehend. Earlier this year I had two colleagues join the team who had previously been very close friends. They’d worked together and socialised together. But then for some unknown reason, one of them decided they had been gravely wronged by the other. And that was the end of their friendship. The only resolution was for one to transfer to another site. I still don’t understand what the problem was!
A Question of Morals
I had been led to believe that extra-marital activities were fairly common in Thailand. Many married men had a mistress or ‘mia noi’ as it’s known here, and this was just widely accepted. So I was quite surprised that there was such outrage recently when a workplace affair came to light.
Actually, the whole episode had been going on for a long time, although I’d been oblivious to it. Steps had previously been taken to address the situation by moving one half of the offending couple to another site. At the time the reasons given to me for this move were probably quite standard, career progression etc. I had no reason to question it.
But then for various reasons (that with hindsight were probably complete rubbish) this person returned to their previous role. And then it all kicked off again! I think maybe people are only bothered if they feel it’s happening right in front of their eyes. Maybe they accept it if there’s a bit more discretion?
It’s amazing that I even know about it! But I’m still not clear if anyone expects me to do anything about it? I cannot tell if this is a serious workplace issue affecting many people or if it’s just being stirred up by one person with their own agenda. Is it even really happening?
For now, I shall steer clear of the whole thing and let the Thais deal with it themselves. Hopefully, I won’t have to hear about it again!