I crawled into bed at 1am last night, no less than 25 hours after getting up. Paradoxically, I only got up at 7am. Aren’t time zones wonderful? I’ve just got back from a business trip to Bangkok and thought I’d post some lessons learnt. In no particular order:
- The weather in Bangkok is hot. Wear short-sleeved shirts. Don’t wear ties. Wear a suit jacket when you go out in the evening, you’ll look like an idiot. And I did.
- Don’t cross roads until you’ve looked left, right, up, down and have resolved any outstanding issues with your life insurance.
- When you enter your airport taxi, note that it will take exactly 27 minutes before you realise you are not about to die. It’ll take another three minutes before you take your hands away from your eyes long enough to notice that none of the cars weaving between lanes have dents, and decide that they are clearly made of reenforced diamond. Or decide that Thai drivers are considerably more talented than you, I or Jeremy Clarkson. Yes, really.
- The people in Thailand are friendly, polite, and remarkably tolerant of our lack of aptitude for their language. Say “thank you” using the feminine version of the phrase for three days, just to keep them amused. We did.
- You’ve not seen value for money until you’ve been to Bangkok. Stay in a hotel room as big as your house for £70 per night. Spend 45 minutes watching the meter in a cab slowly reach the £2 mark. Now try doing the same in Farringdon.
- Towers in Bangkok are tall and numerous. Ours had 38 floors. Take pleasure as the high-speed lifts make your ears pop. Bring sweets. Yawn liberally.
- The Starbucks franchise covers all corners of the earth. I strongly suspect they have spread to all nearby star systems.
- Jet lag is a killer. As is the dawning realisation on your exit from Heathrow airport that the English weather is, frankly, rubbish.
More seriously, spending a few days talking to these guys taught us a thing or two about how to communicate with people when you don’t speak their language:
- Don’t underestimate the people you’re talking to – remember the issue is one of communication, not capability.
- Explain things in simple, but not patronising terms – using colloquialisms or slang won’t help. Remember that some phrases that are in common usage in the UK might well not translate: We spent two days using the word ‘business partner’ before realising that this had been misunderstood.
- Use diagrams. “A picture is worth a thousand words” has never been truer.
- Give it time: You might find you need to explore new ways to explain things in order to hit the right buttons. Talk around the subject a bit, go back to basics, find the hooks in their heads that will allow them to understand.
- Find time to swap stories and compare cultures. Not only will this build rapport, but it’ll help you to understand where your audience is coming from and what drives them.
- Solicit feedback and encourage questions; you’ll get a far better picture of your audience’s level of understanding by allowing them to challenge and push back than you will by blindly blithering on at them for days on end.