There’s a certain appeal to working with Filipinos. They’re known to be fun, casual, and hospitable. Notwithstanding the fact that the Philippine economy and job market is on a rise these days, considering opening your business’ doors in the Philippines is becoming more and more enticing.
That’s probably what you’re thinking right now. You’ve opened yourself up to the possibility of doing business in the Philippines. Like any responsible hard-working entrepreneur, you’re trying to learn everything you need to know before taking the deep plunge into the Philippine market.
Or, you might also be doing business already here in the Philippines, but often find yourself confounded with the strange, confusing way of Filipino employees.
Here in this article, we’ve compiled everything you need to know about managing Filipino teams; and from what you need to know about Filipino corporate culture to how you can navigate it for organizational success.
We’ll be ticking off one-by-one the most common traits Filipinos display in the corporate setting and how to establish yourself as an effective leader among your Filipino team.
Here’s what you need to know:
They Treat Business as Personal
Filipinos are naturally hospitable and friendly. They love engaging with other people, as evidenced by how Filipinos spend the longest time on social media in the world — a whopping 8 hours and 59 minutes per day).
They are collectivist in nature and value harmonious relationships with everyone. They do their best to get along with everyone they know, even at home or at work. Those who don’t are usually seen as uncouth or without manners.
This shows in business as well. In every workplace, you’ll find Filipinos exchanging personal stories with their colleagues at work, going out to lunch together, and even attending their children’s birthday parties.
Did somebody make a successful sale? Treat everyone to pizza. Did somebody go out of town lately? Give everyone pasalubong. (Pasalubong is a souvenir you got from the place you went to. It might be food or trinkets.)
Part of this whole trait is getting to know each other very well, hanging out with each other, and exchanging banters when they interact.
So if a Filipino colleague approaches you and asks you some questions about yourself, don’t fret. It’s their way of welcoming you to the clan and treating you as a friend. They would introduce you to common social cues and invite you to occasions outside of work.
Even though Filipinos don’t like to offend their colleagues or start quarrels with them, sometimes those things cannot be avoided. Sometimes these quarrels elevate into factions, where people side with their close friends or allies.
It gets quite frustrating to deal with, and for the uninitiated, childish and unnecessary. But explaining that kind of sentiment will get more people angry at you, so it’s counterintuitive to do so.
How do you manage situations where the professional becomes personal? Sit down with your team and establish boundaries between work and play. Talk about how, as a group, you will not let personal concerns affect organizational efficiency. Discuss ways how to handle interpersonal conflict.
In the meantime, have karaoke Fridays with your Filipino colleagues. Talk about the recent Game of Thrones episode. Share your insights on your own culture. Soon you’ll find yourself surrounded by not only people you know at work but friends you can rely on.
Honorifics Are Essential
In every business setting, you might encounter some professionals using occupational titles to refer to themselves. Lawyers are usually addressed as “Attorney”, Doctors (“Doc”), Engineers (“Engineer”), and several other skilled professionals are addressed according to their occupation.
You would also hear them say the honorifics “po” and “opo” in every sentence, and at times their informal counterparts too like “ho” and “oho”. They’re usually used when speaking to older people and people of authority, like their boss, their parents, or their older colleagues.
Additionally, Filipinos would also refer to their bosses as “ma’am” or “sir”. You can even hear sales people in the malls and stores addressing customers “ma’am/sir”. Sometimes they even combine the two into one word (“mamser”) as hilariously pointed out by this Filipino impression a foreigner made on this Youtube video.
In Filipino culture, using honorifics is a way of showing politeness and respect. Since childhood Filipinos are taught to be polite. Sometimes part of it is deferring to authority.
Now here’s the thing. As the leader of a Filipino organization, should you roll with it or not?
There was once talk about whether companies should maintain the practice of referring to bosses as “ma’am” or “sir”. Many argue that it only serves as “ego boosters” and that it “creates a mentality of someone being superior, the other being inferior”.
Others defend its place in Filipino culture, which, according to them, is a culture of respect. And when it comes to using occupational titles, it helps you behave accordingly with the person, as elaborated in this article.
But when using honorifics, maintaining a hierarchical mindset comes with the territory. Now we all know how insisting on hierarchy does not promote equality and open communication in an organization, which is why most businesses are doing away with it.
However, here’s something you need to know. The practice of sticking to hierarchical structures depends on the industry you’re in. In 2005, a study on Philippine organizations classified which industries are highly rigid with hierarchies. The ones identified are organizations involved in banking and finance, transport, and government sector. So if you’re in those industries, you would most probably find it difficult to do away with this practice.
But if you’re not in one of those fields, start with insisting that your employees, from the ones in the lowest rung to the ones in the highest, to call everyone using their first names. Start your emails with the recipient’s first name. Greet them in the hallways with their nickname.
You could even try using a sort of swear jar, but in this case, a “ma’am/sir” jar. Anyone who uses those honorifics should drop twenty pesos on the jar. That should incentivize everyone to call each other without their titles.
It’s going to be quite a struggle at first but hey, breaking habits have never been easy, right? Just remind yourself of how it will pay off in the long run. (Bunderen, et al, 2017) That should be easy.
It’s also worth noting that using last names are not something Filipinos usually do. Sometimes, it’s even unacceptable. It often comes off as rude or very formal, so please don’t do it. It’s very counterintuitive.
Communication Barriers Abound
Filipinos have what is called a high context culture. It means that when it comes to communicating with Filipinos, a lot goes on beneath the surface. Contrasted with low context cultures where communication is explicit and straightforward, high context cultures come off as ambiguous and not outsider-friendly.
This Quora response offers a great explanation of what high context culture really means. John Lombard gives this example: Imagine having visitors over and you offer them drinks. They refuse, saying they aren’t thirsty. For low context cultures, the “no” is straightforward. They aren’t really thirsty. They don’t want a drink. Insisting they have tea or coffee will come off as rude or forceful.
But for people of high context culture, they might have refused out of politeness or shyness. They might have wanted tea, but don’t want to ask for it because they’re afraid they might come off as demanding. Persuading them several times will eventually convince them to acquiesce.
You’ll see this frequently when dealing with your Filipino colleagues. Sometimes a “yes” will not be an absolute “yes”. When delegating tasks, Filipinos will agree to take tasks but will hesitate to let you know what they really think about it.
This is because, in high context cultures like the Filipinos’, harmonious relationships are more important than frankness. Filipinos do not want to disappoint or anger their peers, so they will most likely rather be agreeable.
Added by the fact that Filipinos are the most emotional people in the world according to this 2012 Gallup survey, more often than not disagreeing and arguing tends to become emotional and personal for most Filipinos.
Even receiving negative feedback do not often sit well with people, especially when done publicly and frankly. Filipinos see negative feedback given publicly as harsh and disruptive. Because they value harmony, criticisms should be handled constructively or you risk wounding your colleagues’ pride.
This becomes quite problematic when you’re from a low context culture. How will you communicate with each other with no holds barred? How will you avoid offending your colleagues? How can you discern when your Filipino colleagues are being hesitant or vague?
First, always remember the context. There is a context for every interaction. Learn the common Filipino practice of “pakiramdam”. It’s the practice of being sensitive and empathetic to the other person’s feelings and well-being. This way you build trust in your relationships with Filipinos, which they greatly appreciate and return tenfold.
Also, study their body language. Filipinos are highly sensitive to emotional cues. If a person starts waving their hands in front of their faces due to the heat, refreshments are immediately offered. Frowning while agreeing shows hesitation, and warrants follow-up questions of whether they are sure or not.
When it comes to offering criticism and arguing, hold “pre-meetings” before the real thing. Discuss what problems may arise and how to fix and/or avoid them in the future with those involved. Filipinos do not like discussing problems in meetings as they hesitate to offend their peers, more so make them lose face.
If a public discussion could not be avoided, try the sandwich method. Start off with what has been accomplished and what didn’t work, then discuss what could be improved. It helps to be as fair as possible and not sound be as direct as possible.
Filipinos appreciate benevolent leaders. They value people who know how to lead with empathy and efficiency. When you lead them in such manner, you’ll be guaranteed to have a happy and cooperative workforce.
Related Article: Managing a Filipino Workforce: Start by Understanding the Filipino Work Culture
Bringing It All Together
So there you go, we’ve discussed some of the well-known aspects of Filipino culture in the workplace. You might encounter more Filipino practices in the future, so how can you deal with learning and understanding an entirely different culture such as the Filipinos’?
You can try talking with a local and find out more about Filipino culture. You’ll be sure to discover more as you converse with more and more Filipinos and non-Filipinos alike.
You can also try acclimating yourself by talking with fellow non-Filipinos who have managed Filipino teams, as you can have a better understanding of their best practices in managing Filipino teams.
Research also helps a lot, like the one you’re doing right now. Look up the laws and regulations on Philippine labor practices and the resources you’ll need in order to run a successful business in the Philippines.
All in all, working with a different culture can prove to be a challenge, but it’s certainly the kind that opens a lot of doors to learning. The best way to achieve organizational success in a cross-cultural setting is to open your mind, meet everyone in between, and break the barriers wide open. Success is to be had when working with Filipinos, and here’s to hoping you reach exactly that.
Selmer, Jan & De Leon, Corinna. (2018). MANAGEMENT AND CULTURE IN THE PHILIPPINES. Retrieved in https://www.researchgate.net/publication/265194904_MANAGEMENT_AND_CULTURE_IN_THE_PHILIPPINES
When Inter-Team Conflict Spirals Into Intra-Team Power Struggles: The Pivotal Role of Team Power Structures. (2018). Stanford Graduate School of Business. Retrieved 10 April 2018, from https://www.gsb.stanford.edu/faculty-research/publications/when-inter-team-conflict-spirals-intra-team-power-struggles-pivotal
Jopson. (2010). Pakiramdam. Slideshare.net. Retrieved 10 April 2018, from https://www.slideshare.net/ncjopson/pakiramdam
Philippines Cultural Worldview and Business Practices | IOR. (2018). Iorworld.com. Retrieved 10 April 2018, from https://www.iorworld.com/philippines-pages-794.php