Posts tagged with doing business in the Philippines

Cultural Clues, Do’s & Taboos: Communication Guidelines for the PHILIPPINES

Posted on June 27, 2013 by Leave a comment

The Latest! Cultural Clues, Do’s & Taboos – A Series of Cultural Tips for Countries from A to Z: The PHILIPPINES Philippines


‘Small talk’ is an important part of establishing business relationships with Filipinos. You’ll find that Filipinos can be enthusiastic conversationalists.

Expect to be asked personal questions regarding your marital status, income, religion, and other sensitive subjects. If you don’t wish to answer, side-step these questions as graciously as possible.

Embarrassing someone, or reprimanding them in front of others, can cause them to “lose face” or loss of reputation and this has very negative consequences in this culture.

Maintaining cordial relationships is essential in the Philippines. Keep your comments as positive as possible, because negativity can inadvertently cause “loss of face”,

It’s best not to be too direct when communicating with Filipinos. They will usually be more receptive to a rather indirect approach.

Because of the years of U.S. military presence in the Philippines, most North American gestures and communication styles are recognized and understood.

English is the language of most business transactions and nearly all government bodies in the Philippines.

Business travelers are expected to be on time for all appointments, and although the Filipinos may not always arrive exactly on time, you probably won’t be subjected to an overly long wait.

Producing “instant results” is not a part of Filipino business culture. Consequently, you will have to adjust your expectations regarding deadlines and efficiency when working with them.

In order to reach the decision-maker, you will likely have to meet with subordinates first and also adapt to the business protocol at the different levels of the organization.

When meeting a new customer, letters of introduction from friends and business associates can often be helpful in opening doors.

Although there are many social inequalities in the Philippines, Filipinos believe that everyone must be treated with respect. They are expected to behave with modesty and graciousness, especially in their dealings with the poor or less fortunate.

Businessmen should expect to shake hands firmly with other Filipino men both upon introduction and subsequent meetings however, it’s best to wait for a Filipino woman to offer her hand first.

Close female friends may greet each other with a hug and kiss. Similarly, close male friends may have close physical contact, such as holding hands or walking arm in arm around a friend’s shoulder.

Some Filipinos may greet each other by making eye contact, then raising and lowering their eyebrows. When someone raises their eyebrows at you, it is often a way of indicating that you have been understood.

Raising one’s voice is unacceptable in the Filipino business culture. It’s important to maintain a low, controlled tone of voice at all times.

Don’t assume that a smile is an indication of amusement or approval. At times, smiling is used to mask embarrassment, nervousness, and other feelings of discomfort.

Pointing at someone or something can be perceived as an insulting gesture. Filipinos typically point at objects using an open hand. For giving directions, they may use a glance with a slight nod, or purse their lips to signify which way.

To beckon someone, hold your hand out, palm downward, and make a scratching motion with the fingers. Beckoning someone with the palm up and wagging one finger can be interpreted as an insult.

Indicating ‘two’ with the fingers is done by holding up the ring and little finger, not the forefinger and middle finger. The thumb is not used to count numbers in the Philippines.

Don’t put your hands on your hips when conversing. This gesture can be misinterpreted as challenge to another person.

5 Key Conversation Tips

  • · Filipino culture and customs
  • · Family is usually a good topic in the Philippines
  • · Filipinos love fiestas, so asking about these occasions will create a lively conversation
  • · All types of sports, especially basketball
  • · Food and the local specialties

5 Key Conversation Taboos

  • · Politics in general, unless they bring it up first
  • · Corruption, terrorism, or drug trafficking– even though it may be in the news
  • · Foreign aid and related policies
  • · Religion in general, unless they bring it up first
  • · Anything that could potentially cause embarrassment or “loss of face” 

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Author: Gayle Cotton, International Keynote Speaker & Cultural Expert

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