Investors familiar with Asian culture will not be surprised to find that in Myanmar, many people do not give direct answers. Often times people say yes when they do not really mean it, and rarely say no. This is because saying no can often seem confrontational in Asia.
So how can a businessperson tell a genuine yes from one that is intended to mean no? Here is the strategy that we use: when asking someone to do something, we always set a definite date and time. For example, asking someone ‘Would you like to meet with us?’ will usually elicit a response of ‘Sure, whenever I have time.’ An answer like this can be ambiguous and it leaves you unsure as to the real intentions of the person you’re asking.
Instead, try asking the question this way: ‘Can you meet us on Tuesday, October 15th at 3 PM?’ Setting an exact appointment will increase the likelihood of the person actually saying yes or no because it involves actual obligation.
If the answer to your specific question is ‘I’ll have to check my schedule’ or ‘I’ll let you know’, it normally means that the person is not interested. Instead of bluntly saying ‘I’m not interested’ the person will often deflect the question in an attempt to be polite. This is even common between friends and acquaintances who use phrases like ‘You should come to my house sometime’ or ‘We should get lunch later’ without any intention of actually doing so.
Setting an exact date will definitely help, but you should also make sure to follow up with the person. If you set an appointment a week in advance, don’t be surprised if the person doesn’t show up. You should always call one or two days before the appointment to confirm. When you do this you will often find that people have completely forgotten about the appointment and had no intention to attend. Always confirm your appointments in Myanmar.
Going along with the concept of distinguishing yes from no, in Myanmar indirect communication is almost always preferred. If you are a direct person by nature this can take some getting used to. It is always better to use phrasing like ‘We need to improve’ as opposed to ‘Kyaw Thein, you’re doing a terrible job’. If there’s one person in your sales department who is struggling, for example, it is probably better to say ‘The sales department is really struggling’. People in the department and in the company usually know who the struggling person is. To deal with a person who is not fulfilling their job responsibilities, we suggest that you take them aside privately. Reprimanding them in front of the group is a huge loss of face in Asia.