2). Thai..ke Thyme: Are you and your service provider on the same wavelength?

On the road to nowhere....As I mentioned in my earlier blog – my family were holidaying in Bangkok and learning to adjust to the new Thai culture.

Bangkok is a busy confusing large city. You need motorised transport to get about, a taxi or a tuk-tuk. Thai people speak limited English (my Thai is nonexistent) yet they are eager to please and even more eager to earn an income so will always say yes even if they are not completely certain what they are being asked.

On our second to last day we compiled our “still to be seen” list taking to the wet and rainy streets. We flagged a tuk-tuk driver and started negotiating. We made it clear “absolutely no shopping of any kind, we wanted to see only these four temples, all agreed priced.

We needed 2 tuk-tuks for 4 adults. My sister Lauren and I jumped into the first one leaving my mom and Ant to the second; we continued planning the day. We joked the two mean warriors were in the lead vehicle with the gentle souls behind; err hope there are no hiccups we joked, and decided we would split up after our 1st sight.

This was magnificent; we set off for the next one. That is when things went pear shaped. We knew we weren’t heading in the right direction; gut feel and Ant is a killer natural compass. He and I couldn’t help observing landmarks passing (or not passing), in the way we had expected.

We arrived at a GEM market!

We stared at the driver and said “no shopping”! Driver said “just looky”, we said no, drive to where we agreed!  He sulkily conversed with his compatriot and they shot off, again the direction didn’t feel right.

Tyres screeched to a halt outside a tailor shop! Again we said “NO SHOPPING”, take us to the temple we agreed. More Thai spoken, two very agitated drivers, four aggravated drenched passengers.

We shot off  still the direction didn’t feel right. I prodded the driver on the shoulder and said, “Wat Arun” and he suddenly didn’t understand English at all, he had gone deaf!

His face focused on the road and a while later we stopped at an up-market clothing store. Realising this was going to continue until we bought something, I ran inside and bought a cotton shirt exiting saying “Wat Arun NOW!”

I had expected this purchase to solve the problem, but the mumbling and grumbling escalated. We were still heading in a contrary direction.  Ant finally asked the driver what the shops would pay then (he said it was the only explanation). We heard that for each successful drop and shop the drivers got gas “coupons” from the store in gratitude. Clearly my shirt was not sufficient to land them both coupons.

We asked the value of this coupon, 10 times the price of the agreed entire trip for two vehicles. These drivers had wasted a bucket of fuel and in excess of 1.5 hours driving in circles hoping we would buy big! We were sopping wet and decided we were not going to fork out that out to make up for a coupon.

Even gentle amiable Anton was irritated by this time; a heated exchange was on the go between drivers. Lauren and I attempted to have the same conversation; we needed to stop this lunacy. Lauren finally yelled what sounded like “STOP we are done” and the lead driver screeched to a halt. Lauren commanded “pay them!” and we were literally tossed on the side walk in a barrage of angry Thai we didn’t understand followed by one phrase we could understand. “Thees no guud for me”.

Later my sister accurately said, ”It was not good for me to be dragged around Bangkok hostage to a driver when I had limited time to see Bangkok, what was he thinking?”

Did I mention it was raining, a lot, we had no clue where we were? It was very quiet which is unusual for Bangkok. We paid the agreed fare for sight 1 (that was all we had seen in 2 hours) flagged a taxi down and promptly returned to the hotel.

What was the lesson in this for us? Assumptions made, needs not matched.

We wanted to see 4 magnificent temples. We had assumed tuk-tuk drivers would take us there for a fare, that’s what western mindsets are geared to. Additionally we had been clear where we wanted to go, the approximate timeframe for the entire trip and finally the agreed price (per stop). We were specific and they had agreed, we assumed the transaction was clear. We had also been clear about NO SHOPPING, how hard could this be?

The drivers’ assumptions and needs were not matched to ours. It was raining heavily so there were relatively few tourists sightseeing, they needed business. They agreed to the fares for each stop and the route and pretty much all we asked of them, but here is the kicker – their ultimate goal was to get us to shop! They got gas coupons for each successful significant purchase from the stores they dropped us at; we needed to be buying expensive things for them to qualify for coupons, not be sightseeing! We were on different wave lengths.

How often do we set out on a project or a work package imagining and assume we have been really clear? We have used all the right words indicating what, when, where, who, how, only to find out after the fact that despite this needs and expectations were not matched!

We don’t clarify up front what both parties expect the real end result to look like, feel like, taste like, how does it shimmer for you to be done! When we learn to do that more, we should have fewer disappointments.

(“funny” thing is had they done what we had asked of them – matched our expectations – and not wasted our time  or stressed us, we would have been more than happy to pay them the amount of two gas coupons).


1 thought on “2). Thai..ke Thyme: Are you and your service provider on the same wavelength?”

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    Wow, what a story! I’m happy to hear that only a couple of hours were lost and a few temples missed. The costs of some miscommunication can be much higher. In some cases airplanes have crashed because cockpit teams have failed to clearly communicate problems to the captain of a plan aimed directly at a mountain, and there have been plenty of less costly failures via products that don’t meet the needs of customers (over 45% by some estimates). Words alone can’t capture the spirit of an agreement. In my experience, human communication between people of different mindsets, background and cultures is one of the biggest challenge faced by people on project teams. Over-reliance on email, where words fall far short of “see it, taste it smell it” shared understanding, is one culprit. Saying “We need to study this further.” means totally different things in the US and Japan, for example. And even discussions leave the interpretation in the minds of the users. The most effective tool I’ve found for establishing shared understanding is the use of prototyping. Creating a simulation of the desired process and/or end result enables people to experience the result before a lot of time and money is wasted chasing an ineffective solution. Prototyping can be as simple as a paper mock-up or a skit portraying the news conference that will be held to announce the success when achieved. Living into the future in ways more full and rich than words can help all parties come to a shared vision of the future that they’ll work collaboratively to create. Given that lack of clear goals is the #1 cause of failure to achieve goals, it’s worth the time. And in spite of all of our vigilant efforts, my experience has taught me that there is absolutely NOTHING that cannot be misunderstood, so a graceful path to recovery is always handy.

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