So you’ve just checked in at your five-star hotel in Makati and are now preparing for a big client meeting the next day. Other than fixing up your deck for your important presentation, you also need to get acquainted with how to do business in the Philippines. While it’s a lot less formal than those in other Asian countries, there are still some quirks that you should watch out for. Here are some tips to get you started:
1. Be on time, but don’t be surprised if your host or other guests are late. Yes, Filipino time—being late—is still a thing in some sectors. So while it’s better to play safe and be on time for a meeting, don’t be surprised if it starts anywhere from 15 minutes to a full one hour late. This is especially true when attending an event—invitations usually give a time that’s a few minutes earlier than the real start of the event.
2. Expect to make a bit of small talk before the meeting itself begins. Filipinos like to connect with other people on a more personal level, even when it comes to business contacts. Hence, when they ask about your family or other details of your life, don’t misconstrue it as nosing around. If you’re uncomfortable with discussing those topics, just be polite when declining to answer questions.
3. In discussions, choose your words carefully. As a general rule, Filipinos are a lot less straightforward than Americans. Like in other Asian cultures, Filipinos don’t want to lose face. Hence, simply saying that something is horrible may be taken a bit personally. So if you want to raise a concern or disagree, make sure to do it politely. You can use phrases such as “It may be better to do this…” or “We can improve things by…”
4. It may take you a few meetings before your Filipino counterparts reach a final decision. As mentioned earlier, Filipinos are a lot less straightforward than Westerners and are afraid of losing face. Hence, it’s no surprise that Filipinos will need to take time to make a decision. After all, they will need to first consult with everyone that may be affected by the project. Or they may need to sort out papers and other bureaucratic matters before reaching a decision. This is especially true if you’re proposing a major project.
5. Make sure to have something in writing before you leave. In the Philippines, it’s not official if it’s not on paper—or, at the very least, in email. So if ever you and your Filipino counterparts reach a decision, make sure to prepare a written agreement. That way, in the case that a misunderstanding may arise, you both will have something to fall back on.