The Philippines, otherwise known as the Pearl of the Orient Seas, is a unique archipelago that has the third largest English-speaking population worldwide, after the U.S. and India. It is also Asia’s largest Catholic country, has Asia’s highest birth rate, and one-third of the population is under the age of 35. Predictions are that the population will double in 28 years. Not surprisingly, it’s known as the text capital of the world, and now the selfie capital of the planet.
A culturally pluralistic nation with Spanish, British, Chinese, and Arab influences fusing within an vibrant national culture, the Philippines are a fascinating blend of vibrant tradition and modern innovation. Home to flourishing agricultural, industrial and service sectors and a growing, dynamic workforce, this island nation is attracting the attention of businesses and investors worldwide. Their diverse culture requires that business professionals develop a keen understanding of Filipino social traditions that guide relationships and business protocol. Whether you’re making connections in Manila or developing contracts in Davao, these three cross-cultural tips will help you navigate the intricate Filipino social fabric.
1. Find the Balance of Hiya and Amor-proprio:
From an early age, Filipinos are ingrained with a sense of self-esteem known as Hiya, similar to the concept of face instilled in many Asiatic cultures. Hiya is the sense of shame felt when one fails to meet expectations or breaks social protocol. Filipinos will go to great lengths to avoid embarrassment or discomfort for themselves and others. Filipinos are non-confrontational and highly attentive to needs and desires. They will say “yes” simply to save themselves and others from shame.
When doing business, be sensitive to Hiya by avoiding outright refusals or harsh language. Remember that your Filipino counterparts value amor-proprio, which translates as “self-love.” Amor-proprio is demonstrated through warm hospitality, cordiality, and non-confrontational behavior. In business, Filipinos strive to make valuable contributions and collaborate to provide themselves and their counterparts with amor-proprio.
2. Relationships Rule:
The Filipino culture regards relationships with reverence, striving to foster lasting, open relationships. The sense of shared identity and interconnectedness is known as pakikipagkapwa, a state exemplifying respect, concern, and dignity. For business professionals, networking, building rapport, and engaging in warm conversation are excellent skills. Don’t mistake a Filipino’s friendly disposition as nosy or overly inquisitive; questions about your family, education, and personal life demonstrate personal concern and interest.
3. Practice Pakikisama:
Business conversation is held to the standard of Pakikisama, the cultural ideal of smooth and harmonious interaction. Communication is often indirect, as being too straightforward is perceived as arrogant. Avoid an unequivocal no, which may cause a sense of hiya. Instead, express denial or refusal with soft language such as “that may be difficult” or “I’m not sure it is possible.” Relationships are dependent upon mutual respect; engage in diplomatic conversation with a spirit of common interest and kindness.
Filipino culture is intricately woven from many traditions and values - hospitality, respect, and dignity. Keep these insights in mind when doing business and you’ll master Pakikisama.
Sharon Schweitzer, J.D., is a cross-cultural trainer, an international protocol expert and the founder of Protocol & Etiquette Worldwide. In addition to her accreditation in intercultural management with the HOFSTEDE center, she serves as a Chinese Ceremonial and Banquet Dining Etiquette Specialist in the documentary series Confucius was a Foodie, on Nat Geo People and NTD Television Canada. She is the resident etiquette expert for popular morning lifestyle shows: ABC Tampa Bay’s Morning Blend and CBS Austin’s We Are Austin. She is regularly quoted by BBC Capital, Investor’s Business Daily, Fortune, National Business Journal, Reader’s Digest and Stylecaster. Her international award-winning, best-selling book Access to Asia: Your Multicultural Business Guide, now in its second printing, was named to Kirkus Reviews’ Best Books of 2015. Sharon is the winner of the British Airways International Trade, Investment & Expansion Award at the 2016 Greater Austin Business Awards.