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Re-thinking your global-local working relationships for achieving success in Myanmar

Myanmar is one of the last frontier markets – after decades of being under a dictatorship and isolation. Expats coming to work in enchanting Myanmar bring with them great expectations about reaping fabulous success here.  They bring many advantages to a newly opened country – including an advanced education, global/regional experience, and a track record of professional achievements.

Nonetheless, they have often found lots of oddities, quirks, idiosyncrasies and thus challenges working here.  These challenges tend to occur working with Burmese people due to cultural differences. In fact, 90% of expats in the survey in 68 countries agreed that cross-culture leadership is the biggest management challenge of expats working overseas, according to the Economist. Due to cultural issues, up to 40% expatriates terminate their tenure early.

What is different is dangerous” – states Geert Hofstede, the leading scholar in intercultural theories. In Myanmar, U Aung Naing Oo, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Investment and Foreign Economic Relations mentions “An unintended insult to an employee or local community member can sometimes escalate to a much bigger problem for the organization.” Likewise, MCRB director Vicky Bowman comments “Minor cultural misunderstandings by foreign company employees can escalate into wider grievances, including with local communities, which can ultimately jeopardise investments”.

Similarly, according to the majority of the fifty Myanmar professionals who participated in my survey for the book “When Global Meets Local – How Expatriates Can Succeed in Myanmar”, issues/conflicts between expats and Myanmar nationals are most often derived from issues of communications and relationships. They say Expats normally do not understand Myanmar”.

Thus there are certain benefits to re-think your global-local working relationships:

  1. For those who are new in Myanmar – it is crucial to learn from others’ experience to leapfrog forward. Or do you want to re-invent the wheel?.
  2. For those who are struggling in Myanmar, the reason is often related to how to work well with their local colleagues. Then re-thinking the global-local working relationships is a must!
  3. For those who are doing okay/well in Myanmar, you could be doing better. Don’t you strive for excellence? Re-thinking your global-local working relationships would certainly boost your performance for greater success.

Start every day re-thinking about your global-local working relationships in Myanmar!

In many cases, decent intercultural training is a practical and saving solution. But it also depends on how long an expat has worked in Myanmar. The newcomer expats get the best benefits from intercultural workshops though. As one is fresh, professional intercultural training can help him save months and years of making intercultural mistakes that diminish his performance, without knowing it!. At the same time, his company or organization saves lots of money and time, too. They have in fact invested hugely in order to afford hiring an expat.

Hana Bui is an intercultural trainer and author ( Her book “When Global Meets Local – How Expatriates Can Succeed in Myanmar” is the bestselling first-time guidebook for expats on how to work well with local colleagues.

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