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How to work with Burmese colleagues during your Myanmar relocation


Whilst Myanmar may not be every expat’s idea of paradise, for those committed to helping others as well as developing themselves it can be the journey of a lifetime.

Recently opened up to foreigners after decades of isolation and dictatorial rule, Myanmar is now seeing expatriates arriving to work with NGOs as well as in businesses whose employees are totally unfamiliar with Western world business practices. That said, doing it the Burmese way may be frustrating at best and infuriating at worst, but neither of these negative emotions are appreciated in the workplace or in Burmese society. Put basically, the corporate environment is perhaps one of the world’s most difficult for incoming expats professionals, but it can also be one of the most rewarding.

In Myanmar, the workplace is seen as a space where the feminine culture rules, with the rational mind overruled by emotions. Burmese professionals value a friendly environment filled with good relationships far more than they value competitiveness and results-oriented achievements. They’re motivated by kindness and a sense of being cared for, with managers ever ready to help underlings solve their problems. Faced with the above, all new expat arrivals can do is smile, be soft and be excessively polite to everyone. Losing your temper and shouting is the worst crime of all as it wrecks the harmony between workers.

Respect is everything in Myanmar, beginning with respect for the Buddha and trickling down through management levels and offices to the guy who sweeps the road outside. Hierarchy is important, but respect is essential. New expat arrivals should remember the country has only recently opened to the rest of the world, meaning international standards simply don’t apply as yet. Coaching and carefully presented detailed instructions are the way forward, as in the micromanagement style once popular in the West.

Organisations in Myanmar mostly offer very attractive packages for expat professionals, often allocating finances for intercultural training programmes as this protects their considerable investment in this developing nation. Courses include business practices, etiquette, cultural values, day to day life and the skills needed to get the best out of Burmese staff with their totally different cultural values. Once the initial shock has worn off, adventurous expat professionals may well find their time in Myanmar is a high point in their lives as regards learning as well as instructing and achieving.

Source: Emigrate

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