The Philippines is the result a unique cultural mix of Asian and Western influences and presents the overseas business visitor with a host of seemingly conflicting characteristics.
Asian concepts such as the importance of the preservation of face coexist with such Latin characteristics as male machismo and the need to seek revenge for any perceived personal slights.
Most Filipino companies are hierarchically structured and local employees would look to a strong hierarchy as the sign of a well-run organisation. Flatter, matrix-oriented structures championing such concepts as delegation may be viewed with suspicion.
As companies tend to be hierarchical and family-run, decision making tends to be located with a few senior managers. All decisions will emanate from the top and be filtered down to middle management for implementation.
Expect a good level of education and professional competence from the local managerial cadre working at the middle levels of Filipino companies.
Develop contacts at all levels of an organisation – at the top for decision making purposes, and lower down for when projects begin.
Managers are expected to manage and make decisions. These decisions will then be communicated to subordinates who are expected to comply with requests.
Instructions should be given clearly and in detail. People will do what is asked of them but may be unwilling to second-guess the unspoken requests of a superior. Do not expect too much individual initiative.
Meetings can seem quite relaxed with time keeping being less rigidly adhered to than in many other cultures. Meetings can start up to one hour late.
Relationship building is very important in the Philippines and all meetings will start with the obligatory small talk to re-establish contact. Do not try to rush this part of the meeting. This section sets the tone of what follows.
It is important that cordial relations are maintained at all times – even when things start to get difficult. Do not become emotional or angry as this will reflect badly on your character and could result in you losing face in Filipino eyes.
As Filipinos do not wish to appear confrontational, you may interpret their politeness as agreement. Do not assume that yes means yes or that a happy, smiling face signifies progress.
English language levels are very high in the Philippines and, therefore, communication flows very easily at a superficial level. It is dangerous, however, to take everything you hear at face value. Look for the coded messages behind the words that are spoken.
Bureaucracy is all-pervasive and slow. It may be necessary for gifts to be given to government officials in order to speed up proceedings. This process is best left to a local representative who understands the system.
Take a supply of small gifts with you to the Philippines to help oil the progress of the relationship-building process. Remember that gifts should always be wrapped.
Women should encounter few difficulties when working in the Philippines, so long as they maintain a professional and reserved manner. Overly assertive women could alienate male colleagues.
Dress code tends to be reasonably formal. Remember to pack lightweight clothing and an umbrella can also be useful.
About 5% of the population are Muslim (mainly from the Southern parts of the country). When travelling in these areas be aware of local Islamic taboos relating to dress, diet and alcohol. (Women should dress very modestly.)
Do not make jokes about the Philippines, religious issues or at the expense of any individual.
Entertaining is an important business tool and many Filipino contacts will expect the business process to include a good deal of after-hours work. When entertaining, try doing it well and if inviting guests ensuring that you pay the bill.