Lao Culture

Business Culture

Meetings

  • Punctuality is valued in Lao business culture. Thus, arriving later than the arranged meeting time without warning may be perceived as a lack of respect for your Lao counterpart.
  • The traditional greeting in Lao is the nop (see ‘The Nop’ in Greetings). However, this custom has been primarily replaced in a business setting by shaking hands.
  • In Laos, it is considered acceptable for foreigners to shake hands with people regardless of gender.
  • Business cards are typically handed out during the initial meeting.
  • In a business meeting, deference and respect are usually shown to the most senior person in an organisation.
  • Communications are addressed to the senior decision maker. 
  • The decision-making process can take a considerable length of time as information is relayed up and down the organisation's hierarchy.
  • Meetings tend not to be rigid and follow a schedule or agenda strictly. Discussion topics may continue until all attendees feel as though everything of interest has been satisfactorily discussed.
  • In Lao business culture, bargaining is expected in most commercial transactions. Nonetheless, Lao tend to be gentle hagglers.
  • It is best to double-check the clarity of statements if you are unsure about the meaning of what has been said. Lao use the term ‘yes’ to have various meanings, not all of which indicate agreement (see ‘Verbal’ in Communication for more information).


Business Communication

The notion of face plays a central role in business interactions in Laos. Most people present themselves and behave in such a way that maintains the reputation of themselves, their business and other related figures. Sensitive or difficult conversation topics are expected to be initiated from those of seniority. Direct refusals are also avoided. Thus, it is important to bear in mind what emotions you are displaying and how they may be received when interacting with your Lao business counterpart. Nevertheless, acting as one typically would in business interactions in the English-speaking West – a respectable, calm and patient manner – is a good communication approach.


Considerations

  • In Laos, social activities such as eating dinner or playing golf are used to help create a level of mutual trust and understanding between business partners. 
  • At the outset, it is important to determine the seniority and hierarchy of the organisation, as well as who is responsible for decision making.
  • In Laos, there is a high expectation that one would hire their family members or close friends. 
  • If business cards are handed out, try to present a business card that is written in both English and Lao.
  • Laos has only recently opened up to foreign investment (since the mid-1990s). Bear this in mind when conducting business in Laos.
  • A small token of appreciation in the form of a gift is always appreciated when visiting a Lao business counterpart. When offering a gift, present it with your right hand.
  • On the Corruption Perception Index (2017), Laos ranks 135th out of 180 countries, receiving a score of 29 (on a scale from 0 to 100). This perception suggests that the country’s public sector is somewhat corrupt.
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