Filipino Communication Styles

From one perspective, communicating in the Philippines is extremely easy for many Western business people.

The business language of the country is English (as a result of the American influenced era which began in 1898) and, indeed, the country’s biggest export is probably an English-language speaking workforce which travels the world repatriating hard currency.

It is dangerous, however, to assume that just because many business people speak seemingly fluent English that their communication pattern is akin to that of an American or British visitor. The Filipino communication style still owes much to its Asian roots and the use of diplomatic and coded language can make comprehension somewhat difficult.

As in many other Asian countries, people find it extremely difficult to say ‘no’. To say no could be construed as confrontational and unfriendly, so Filipinos would rather say ‘yes’ even if they mean ‘no’. Any agreements should be viewed with extreme caution unless accompanied by a written confirmation or at least detailed action points and proposals.

In addition to the use of coded-language, Filipino body language can also be misleading for the overseas visitor. The ubiquitous smile should not be misconstrued as agreement or pleasure in what has been discussed. The smile can just as easily be used to hide embarrassment, annoyance or disagreement. Meetings always appear to be going well if the other side says ‘yes’ to everything and smiles at you the whole time!

When an agreement appears to have been reached, wait for the concrete signals such as a contract or detailed requests for information and only then feel confident about proceeding.

A brief overview of some key concepts to consider when doing business in the Philippines

Written and Produced by Keith Warburton

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This country profile has been produced to give a short overview of some of the key concepts to bear in mind when doing business with contacts in the Philippines. It is intended to be an aid to business people who have commercial dealings with counterparties in the country but should not be seen as an exhaustive guide to this topic or as a substitute for more substantial research should there be a need.

With this in mind, we have covered the areas which are key to a better understanding of the cultural mindset underpinning business dealings in the Philippines and which are, quite often, extremely different from the approach and thought processes associated with business in other parts of the world.

Therefore this briefing note is broken into short, bite-sized sections on the following topics:

  • Background to business
  • Business Structures
  • Management style
  • Meetings
  • Teamwork
  • Communication
  • Women in business
  • Entertaining
  • Top tips