Situated in south-east Asia, the Philippines is a magnificently beautiful country, home to over 7,000 islands, some of which have either not yet been explored, or have not yet been placed on the world’s maps. It is a country full of happy people, who try to find the positive in every situation, no matter how dire. While there is some social inequality, most of the population falls in the middle to lower-income groups, but despite this fact, Filipinos are well-known for their excellent sense of humor and friendliness. If you’re planning on doing business in the Philippines, you’ll need to know that the Filipino language, which is often mixed with English because the majority of the population speaks this language, sometimes doesn’t have English equivalents, especially for phrases to indicate respect for an older person. These cultural intricacies are critical for developing a business strategy that adjusts itself to Filipino culture.
A mix of cultures
The Philippines has a rich history with influences from both Spain and the US. This cultural “interference” has also shaped the country’s culture. Despite over 100 languages being spoken in the country, Filipino and English are the most prominent. These languages shape the country’s culture and it’s important to take into consideration some cultural influences as well as traditions when considering expanding your business there. For example, family is a central factor for most Filipinos and this is why so many (around 11%) have taken to work overseas (with one of the highest numbers of nurses in the world), sending remittances back home to raise their children and support their family and extended family. The nuclear family is a central point for starting any relationship with a Filipino. However, apart from family, there are other essential elements to Filipino culture you may want to factor in when considering the Philippines as your next business move. For example, religion also plays a critical part of daily life, with most Filipinos subscribing to the Catholic religion, with a small minority of Islam being practiced in the southern islands.
Culture and its impact on communication
The Filipino culture is an intricate mix of several cultures put together. They enjoy a variety of festivals due to their Spanish influences, laugh a lot (whether to save face, avoid embarrassment or simply to express positivity), and generally try to be good-natured citizens in all their interactions. However, despite their American influences, they have not adopted a culture of punctuality and the western concept of respect for time may be found to be elusive (for more on time and being punctual, see the section below). In this section, we will take a look at some of the factors that can help or hinder communication with Filipinos when doing business.
A matriarchal society
Contrary to the fact that most other Asian countries surrounding the Philippines are patriarchal, the Philippines is a relatively matriarchal society with women taking up prominent leadership, political, and business roles and positions. In fact, two women were presidents of the Philippines in the past. Therefore, respect for women is high and the mother in a family can be considered as the head of the household.
Time and being punctual
Despite the fact that there’s strong US influence in the Philippines, and that this aspect of culture has often been translated in other US territories, the concept of time has not. This means that Filipinos will often be late for meetings and will also sometimes not finish projects on time. This may be due to the high traffic congestion in the capital, Manila, but it is mostly a result of cultural attributes of flexi-time. To meet deadlines, Filipinos will often work late hours and make up for lost time. However, this should not be construed to indicate that they are not hardworking individuals.
Business and personal relationships
It’s common for Filipinos to want to get to know you on a personal level and they may ask you rather personal questions such as your age and marital status. This does not mean that they are rude, but rather, that they simply have an interest in you. When it comes to business relationships, it’s common to refer to an individual by their title such as Doctor or Attorney, alternatively “Sir” and “Ma’am” are also common to indicate respect to superiors. Filipinos have a hierarchical business structure that requires that decisions are made by managers and superiors. However, there is a culture of common decision making, which should not be ignored or disregarded.
Filipinos are very aware of embarrassment and shame and they will often laugh to avoid these situations. Laughter could mean friendliness or an indication that a situation has become uncomfortable for them, so you should take heed of these non-verbal cues and try to adjust your response accordingly. Another issue of saving face is the concept of saying “no”. Filipinos will often try to help as much as possible, but when a situation is not doable, they will tend to say “maybe” or “if God wills it” to avoid giving an outright negative answer to your face.
Translating for Filipino clients
If you want to win more Filipino clients, you should take note of the abovementioned cultural intricacies related to Flipino culture and make sure you apply them to your interactions with them. Always address your business partner by their title and hierarchical status, as this shows respect, and educational and professional achievements are significantly valued in this country. Furthermore, don’t expect a Filipino client to be on time and don’t take this as a sign of disrespect or being rude. Never criticize a Filipino person directly – whether an employee or a business partner. If there is a problem, address this using covered and veiled language that will not cause shame or embarrassment, as what is referred to as hiya, is often a major no-no in the country. Treasure your business relationships as much as you can and try to get to know the people you’re working with personally. When Filipinos establish business relationships, they focus on the individual and if that individual no longer works for the company, you may need to start relationship-building from scratch.