Traditional Filipino Worldview

Group Orientation
Identity by family, group and larger “kinship groups.” Pakikisama—the skill of togetherness and camaraderie

Harmony, face, social propriety and conformity highly valued. (Hiya)

Relationship Focused
Personal interaction and relationship required before work and tasks can be accomplished

Patterns of rank and status observed in families, workplace and kinship groups

Tolerance for Ambiguity 
Comfortable with ambiguous situations as long as relationships are respected; managerial guidance expected.

Rules and structures exist to govern society in general, but enforcement of rules takes into consideration context and relationship.

Fluid Time 
Scheduling and deadlines can be flexible. Pakigsama—”go with the flow.”

Cultural Notes:

  • The Philippines were under Spanish rule for more than three centuries (1521—1898) and a territory of the United States from 1989—1946
  • The Japanese and Chinese have been settling in the Philippines since pre-colonial times
  • The Philippines represents a complex blend of Spanish, Asian and U.S. cultures combined with the influences of its own indigenous cultures.

Cultural Assumptions

  • The skill and art of living and working in a group (Pakikisama)
  • Hierarchy, face and social propriety (Hiya)
  • Harmony and calm within kinship groups (Barangay)
  • Mutual debt to one another binds a group (Utang Na Loob)
  • Tolerance for ambiguity
  • Identification with authority
  • Paternal care in return for filial loyalty
  • Fate – Acceptance of both success and failure
  • Endurance
  • Family and kinship groups necessary for survival

Traditional Filipino Communication Style

Imply / suggest what is meant. Necessary to read between the lines to find meaning. “Yes” is not always agreement. A well-developed instinct for what is not being said.
High Context
Relationship will determine the type of communication that is acceptable and the implicit meaning.
Hierarchy respected at all times. Titles are important to show respect and maintain face.
Emotional displays are avoided in order to maintain harmony.


Guidelines for Communicating with Filipinos

  • Focus on how something is said – relational meanings often outweigh literal meanings.
  • Be aware of gestures and facial expressions. An affirmative answer (yes) accompanied by a head nod down, still means “no”
  • Keep in mind that Utang Na Loob, Debt of the Inner, self will mean that if you accept a favor, a greater favor is expected in return (non-monetary).
  • Focus on using the word “we” more than “I.”
  • Practice using indirect communication that does not directly criticize an individual, particularly in front of others.
  • Third-party mediators (friends or colleagues) are often used to solve conflicts between individuals in both social and business situations
  • Until you know someone well, address people using formal titles.
  • Showing too much emotion is seen as childish and a violation of hiya. Remain even-tempered and friendly.
  • Take time to build relationships by showing genuine interest.
  • Be prepared to frequently accept and give small gifts
  • Understand that individuals from the “in-group” are likely to be treated differently from the “out-group” but outwardly all are to be treated with respectful language and gestures.
  • While there is the impression of being highly “westernized,” family and kinship groups have the greatest influence on virtually all interaction.

Non-Verbal Dynamics

A quick lifting of the eyebrows is a Filipino greeting. Respect for elders is shown by greeting the oldest person first. It is insulting to beckon someone with the index finger; instead extend the arm and palm down, make a scooping motion with the fingers. To indicate two of something, raise the ring and pinkie fingers. “Yes” is a jerk of the head upward; “no” is a jerk of the head down.

Filipinos are generally comfortable with touching. Friends of the same gender may hold hands in public. Men and women shake hands when greeting and leaving, but a man should wait for a woman to extend her hand. Handshakes are friendly and limp. To attract attention it is acceptable to lightly touch a person’s elbow.

Personal space in public or at home is not an important consideration. Extended families often live in close quarters, and space as well as possessions are shared.

Business Practices

PROBLEM SOLVING Difficult to identify problems directly as no one wants to raise problematic issues. Problems are addressed as group issue. Mandates come from above. Process may be slow.
MOTIVATING PEOPLE Job security, superior’s interest in personal well-being, and limiting risk through clear direction
APPRAISING PERFORMANCE Based on job performance, but also takes into account ability to fit into the team.
PERFORMANCE EXPECTATIONS Respectful of company hierarchy. Follow through on given tasks and work harmoniously with the team.
NEGOTIATING, PERSUADING Long and often drawn out. Several meetings may be required before striking a deal. Relationships are key and who you know may play as important a role as what you are offering or requesting.
DECISION MAKING PROCESS Decisions are made from the top. Pre-meetings and less formal discussions may enable subordinates to express views. But decisions themselves are made by superiors.
PARTICIPATION IN MEETINGS May appear to be somewhat relaxed, friendly and informal. However, rules of hierarchy apply, and it is important to be aware that only what is said by those with authority will translate into decisions and results.
Respect for authority in return for patriarchal attention to subordinates.
HIRING Hiring is based on qualifications, but with a heavy emphasis on connections and who the applicant knows and the relationship to others inside of outside of the organization. Dismissal must take into account the impact on the company’s reputation and group morale.
CUSTOMER RELATIONS Development of long-term relationships. Relationships may be more important than price of the product. Expect to socialize as part of business.