Multicultural business relationships and starting a business or job abroad are two of the biggest challenges encountered by foreigners and expats. Before entering the business culture in Vietnam, many may expect some clichés such as slow, passive, rude, and dull.
In fact, the world of Vietnam’s business culture is far more appealing than anyone would imagine. To avoid culture hiccups to ensure your successful business in Vietnam, you just have to navigate safely in its business environment with our tips provided in this article.
Understand Business Culture in Vietnam
One of the fundamental keys to success when doing business in Vietnam is the ability to grasp Vietnamese business customs. Lack of understanding might cost you dearly and result in lost opportunities.
It is important to note that the Vietnamese society is collectivist and family, as well as community concerns, will almost always come before individual or business needs.
Here, we discuss further key aspects of Vietnamese business cultures that will help you to understand business customs and close your deals in Vietnam successfully.
Building Relationship before Business Negotiations
Any foreigners who have lived and worked in Vietnam for a long time will tell you to invest in relationships, build trust and mutual respect.
For Vietnamese, comfort and respect usually come before business communication. As a result, negotiating in Vietnam can seem a bit slow due to the time it takes to build a relationship with potential clients.
Besides, foreigners need to keep in mind that the final decision will go through a lot of consultation and red tape in Vietnam. Therefore, remember to be patient.
As long as you are committed, communicate properly, and build a relationship during the process, you will do fine. The benefit is even more obvious if you and your partner have a mutual relationship with other potential stakeholders.
Gift Giving Etiquette
One of the ways how to build a relationship with your Vietnamese business partner is to exchange small gifts. This is to express your respect and appreciation. By no means, this gift should not encourage corruption or bribery.
The gifts are expected to be small items, not necessarily expensive, in the form of alcohol, tea, fruits or flowers. You should avoid sharp objects such as scissors or knives which symbolise the cutting of the relationship and a black wrapping paper that evokes unluck and is frequently associated with funerals. On the other hand, the red colour represents luck and wealth and green is linked with rebirth and renewal.
There is no consensus among Vietnamese if gifts should be open upon the time of their receiving or later, so you should leave this option to your partner.
Business Meetings in Vietnam
There are several protocols when it comes down to the culture for business meetings in Vietnam, and you are advised to adhere to them if possible.
Just like many business cultures across the world, the Vietnamese is always punctual for their meetings and expect you to do the same. Do not be late and always make appointments for meetings.
However, do not confirm the meeting too early in advance and remember to reconfirm it a day before, especially the meeting is set outside the company.
Also, one important note to take away is that it is highly suggested not to make any appointments when the Vietnamese New Year, or Tet, is approaching. This is because appointments around this important festival will usually be cancelled when everyone is extremely busy.
The widely accepted dress code for business meetings in Vietnam is generally conservative – standard and dark-coloured suit and tie for men, and dresses, blouses with high neckline or suits for women.
In addition to that, women usually stick to skirts that are below the knees, flat shoes or shoes with very low heels to show modesty.
The suit jackets are often not required as long as the attire is neat and leaves a good impression.
However, the dress code will differ slightly depending on the location of your business. Business attire in the southern part of Vietnam such as Ho Chi Minh City is known to be more white-collar and casual.
Greeting and Meeting
Traditionally, the Vietnamese used to greet each other by putting their hands together and bowing slightly. Though this tradition is still practised by older generations, most Vietnamese, especially those in bigger cities, as adopted the practice of shaking hands.
During a meeting, you should shake hands with all members in the room, starting from the oldest person first.
While shaking hands with Vietnamese women, you usually wait for them to offer their hands first especially when you are a non-Vietnamese man. If they do not initiate the gesture, you can just bow slightly to them to show your respect.
Seniority and Hierarchy
As Vietnamese business culture values hierarchy, people show respect and deference to senior employees in the meeting room – in terms of ranking, experience, and age.
You will be most likely introduced to a person with the highest rank in the company first. Similarly, this highest-ranked person will also be greeted first in any business environments.
In addition to that, do not forget to address the other party by his or her designation such as “Director”, “Chairman”, “Manager”, etc. For members without rank or title, you are advised to address them with “Mr.”, “Mrs.”, and “Ms.” that precede their names.
Vietnamese names start with a surname followed by a middle name and first name as such Mr Nguyen Nam Thuy would be referred to as Mr Thuy.
Business Cards Exchange
It is always a polite gesture to present your business card with both hands to the person or the group you have a meeting with. Business cards are recommended to be printed in both Vietnamese and English and given to the oldest and highest-ranked members first. Then, move down the line.
While giving out your business card or receiving one from others, make sure that you hold the business card with both hands when facing the person to show your respect.
Here is another important point when you are receiving a business card – look at it and examine it properly instead of glance through it.
After all the small talk and icebreakers, you need to be ready to present and introduce your company. This step is very critical before the Vietnamese will trust you and do business with you. You need to let them know what they want to know about your company and what you can offer as a business partner.
It is best for the presentation slides to be written in both English and Vietnamese. If you are in a room with few people that speak English, you might want to bring an interpreter or a person who is bilingual with you to the meeting.
Business Entertainment in Vietnam
Many times you may be invited for business occasions, especially over food and drinks, such as business luncheons and dinners. Even though these events might be less formal, you cannot go wrong when you follow basic rules of business etiquette in Vietnam.
Most business eat-outs will be held in restaurants, hotels, or a more casual setting such as cafés. Often, your host will arrange everything prior to your visit. Therefore, as Vietnamese embraces reciprocation as part of their values, you are recommended to arrange a return dinner as well – with a location that is of the same quality and standard.
The reciprocated dinner or eat-outs are done so to show your appreciation to your host of his or her dinner arrangements earlier. Do take note that negotiations or business are often not discussed during the dinner – it is more likely to happen during luncheons.
When dining in Vietnam with your business stakeholders, the dining etiquette plays an important role. Especially for dinners, they usually consist of several dishes and will all be placed on the table. You will share these dishes with everyone on the table by taking some from each into your own plate.
Chopsticks are a part of Vietnamese traditions, and you will always find them in a restaurant. However, some western or modern restaurants will also provide western utensils such as spoons, forks, and knives.
Drinking beer, wines or other liquor during the meal is common as they are served at the same time. While exchanging toasts with a host, it is more appropriate for the host to give the toast first.
When it is your turn to toast your host, you are expected to stand, face the most senior or oldest person in the group, and raise your glass with both hands. Remember, a short and sweet speech will be enough.
Cekindo international team consists of locals and foreigners business consultants who are trained to achieve the best results during any negotiations.
Contact us now, and we will assist you to win deals or close contracts on your behalf without stressing over business culture in Vietnam.