Everywhere on the Web, when you search for Philippine Culture, you will find some sites describing what makes Filipinos tick, especially in business dealings. Somewhere on these sites, you might also encounter a description which goes something like this:
Westerners are oftentimes baffled by a Filipino’s positive answer to an appointment or to instructions given only to discover later on that the same individual did exactly the opposite without cancelling an appointment or asking questions regarding the clarity of the instructions. Instead of repeating myself, refer also to a previous post which also discussed when Filipinos will say YES.
Clarence Henderson, who has had over 20 years of consulting experience in New York, Los Angeles, and the Philippines, writing for Asia Pacific Management Forum (1999) gives an example:
Katz (2008) discussing the Filipino manner of communicating, writes:
Moreover, Salazar (2005) counters by writing:
Let us go back to basic English, then. BBC Learning English’s Sarah Bradshaw (2005) answers the difference of the words ‘maybe’, ‘perhaps’, and ‘possibly’:
In Philippine context, however, all these three are equivalent. These English words are equally translated into Baka in Filipino, Basin in Visaya or Tingali in Cebuano. MAYBE, ‘perhaps’, or ‘I’ll try’ are usual answers to questions to which a Westerner would really say NO.
Salazar (2005) adds: “[D]irectness is considered impolite, Filipinos use indirect speech to convey a need or desire.” Even Lorenzana (2006) clarifies: “Filipinos put a premium on peace. They avoid conflict whenever possible and when it exists they try to settle it in a nonconfrontational way.”
All these boils down to a closer look at Filipinos values or traits. Guthrie (1968), as quoted by Leoncini (2005), explains Filipino behavioral patterns in terms of a few characteristics they behaviorally manifest or concepts they deem important in dealing with others. These behavioral patterns are amor propio [self-esteem], hiya [embarrassment], utang na loob [obligation], and pakikisama [getting along together/with others]. These “four concepts have proven very useful in attempting to understand Filipino behavior patterns.”
Meanwhile, Lynch (1963) defines Smooth Interpersonal Relations [SIR] as “a facility at getting along with others in such a way as to avoid outward signs of conflict.” He describes:
Thus, I propose that the Filipino MAYBE is a way of dealing with questions demanding decisive answers in a non-confrontational polite manner. It does not reflect indecisiveness but rather the expectation that something is possible because of the positive aspect of utang na loob or pakikisama. Utang na loob or hiya might figure in the answer of MAYBE especially if the asker is a superior. Pakikisama and amor propio tend to be considered in the MAYBE given to a colleague, friend or acquaintance.
To a Filipino, saying an outright NO is similar to turning work away. It offends the desperate desire to be liked or to try first before quitting, and plays to insecurity that afflicts even the best of us. Typical to Filipinos, saying MAYBE or its equivalents—often the infamous phrase: "I’ll try"—is better than declaring a decisive YES or an outright NO at first then rescinding or revising it later. To Filipinos, the latter is tantamount to not being true to one’s word [or walang isang salita]. As a proverb says: It’s better to try then fail, rather than not try at all!
If in the West a declaration of decisiveness is “I mean what I say and I say what I mean,” in the Philippines, actions and facial expressions speak louder than mere words.
Katz, Lothar (2008). Negotiating International Business — The Philippines excerpted from Negotiating International Business — The Negotiator’s Reference Guide to 50 Countries Around the World. Online: Global Negotiation Resources, June 2008. back to text
Leoncini, Dante Luis P. (2005). A Conceptual Analysis of Pakikisama, Filipino Cultural Traits: Claro R. Ceniza Lectures.. Rolando M. Gripaldo, (ed.) Washington, D.C.: Council for Research in Values and Philosophy, 2005. back to text
Lorenzana , Angela E. (2006), Galit: The Filipino Emotion Word for ‘Anger’. Paper presented at Tenth International Conference on Austronesian Linguistics (10-ICAL). 17-20 January 2006. Puerto Princesa City, Palawan, Philippines. 13pp. back to text
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