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Translation | Cultural Diversity and Differences

Toyo Electronics(Thailand)Co.,Ltd. Mr. Watcharin Sae-tang

[ This article is an English translation of an article written for Thai. ]

Mr. Watcharin Sae-tang, or Khun Yai, an Engineering Manager of Toyo Electronics (Thailand) Co., Ltd., has an experience working in diverse cultural environment such as Thai, Japanese, American, and European. He has also experienced different organizational cultures of both small-sized and large-sized enterprises, and has pursued his study in the UK. Thus, he has many interesting experiences and valuable lessons to share.

From Personal Interest to The Right Job

Khun Yai has always been interested in sciences, especially in mechanicals and vehicles, since a young age. His interest in engineering began when he was in a secondary school, leading him to further his education in engineering. He specifically chose mechanical engineering, and was confident he had selected the right path. In his first year of university, he was still indecisive between the two alternatives of major: computer engineering and mechanical engineering. It was when he got to attend a Motor Show that he was motivated to study mechanical engineering, aiming to work within this field.

The First Professional Step

After graduation, he was hired as a service engineer in a small Japanese company, which was a good start for him. Because it was a small-sized company, he had to practically do pretty much everything. From theory-based knowledge in his study, he got to turn it into practice and actually use a spanner for work. Being in that company provided Khun Yai with a firm professional foundation. Having worked with mechanics, who possessed different competency and skills from an engineer like him, and having a strict Japanese boss allowed him to learn a lot.

The First Mistake

Khun Yai’s first mistake in his job was caused by a problem of communication. Then, his English proficiency was still limited, causing a miscommunication between him and his Japanese boss. He didn’t understand his boss was rushing him to get a passport, and ended up missing a chance of an internship in Philippines. Still, Khun Yai admitted it was his own fault in not clearly getting his boss’s point. He only knew that the boss wanted him to get a passport, but had no idea of when, how, and who to ask for an approval. This gave him one lesson; every time when communicating, it is necessary to ask for and thoroughly understand the whole point, which he still remembers by heart until today.

Lesson Learned from Communication

With experiences in cross-cultural communication, especially when working in an American company where Khun Yai had a Thai senior who graduated a PhD from the US as a mentor and had absorbed some characteristics of American-style communication, he took some working and communicating practices that he liked and applied them to himself. Giving space for his subordinates to control and manage themselves, adjusting his communication when distributing workload, teaching and advising what is lacking in work are what he has changed. Due to the large size of the company and a number of engineer co-workers, everyone could learn from one another and learn from the company’s system. It was then Khun Yai learnt the differences of organizational cultures between small-sized and large-sized enterprises. He personally likes large-sized companies’ organizational culture as it allows new employees to learn a lot right from the start. He used to think that being in a small-sized company was better as it offered comprehensive knowledge and experience. However, for some freshly-graduated employees, the learning experience in a system like that in a large-sized company is still needed.

Communication across Cultures

Having been working with people from several different cultures, Khun Yai has learnt the work cultures of each country. He shared that the Americans are straightforward, explicitly expressing whether they like something or not. Using English to communicate also saves time as the translation is not needed. On the other hand, Japanese companies usually give moral and guide workers to think. They are not straightforward and will not clearly say yes or no. The communication, writing an email for instance, tends to be lengthy. It must also be translated to be comprehensible. This could contribute to a miscommunication to some extent. The perception level of each Thai also differs. Hence, Japanese-style communication may cause inconsistency in perception of the point communicated, depending on the ability and experience of each receiver.

The Middleman in Cross-cultural Communication

As Khun Yai has experienced working and communicating cross cultures in many aspects, he questioned himself about the cause of a miscommunication between Japanese and Thai people, whether it is from Japanese’s implicit style of communication or the competence in message receiving of the Thai. This is something he still ponders. When Khun Yai has to come and work at Toyo Electronics, becoming a middleman in the communication between Japanese boss and Thai subordinates, he gets to see some sensitive issues in Thai people’s working behavior which reflects quite low responsibility. He then understands that the problem is rather personal and depends on each person’s traits and characteristics, not each particular culture or age range, as previously believed the younger generation is less tolerant and less responsible. It can be clearly seen, though, that Thai people prefer working freely and independently. Thus, setting a loose scope of work or time frame, and letting them finish the work by themselves are good ideas. Khun Yai has integrated what he learnt from various cultures into his working system; for example a ‘listen-memorize-note’ technique to be able to follow on each task.

The Strengths and Weaknesses of Japanese-style Communication

When asked to compare strengths and weaknesses of Japanese-style communication to those of other cultures, Khun Yai points out that the strength, which he also likes about Japanese-style communication, is the art of Japanese speaking. The speech tends to be systematically well-planned, ended with teachings. Being considerate, mannerly, modest, and polite are also what Khun Yai wants to improve himself into. The weakness is probably, in some cases, when ending a speech, the speaker could be a little more precise and clear so that the listener can easily understand the point. So far, Khun Yai has applied an American-style communication into work, getting straight to the point and making sure a point he makes is unambiguous and accurate.

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