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.