What’s Cultural Sensitivity Training & How Can It Help Companies In Vietnam?

Cultural sensitivity training bridges workplace gaps between individuals of various backgrounds. Learn how to foster a business where differences thrive.

thijs van loon betterworks asia

In this conversation, we spoke to Thijs van Loon, CEO and founder of Betterworks Asia. With the aim of providing training and coaching programs for professionals in the workplace, Thijs leverages twenty years of experience to take you and your company to new heights. Given that there’s so much to unpack in the field, we chose to focus on cultural sensitivity training in this article. Read on to find out everything from what the process entails to how it can help companies in Vietnam. 

What Is Cultural Sensitivity Training?

Cultural sensitivity training is a process designed to increase people’s understanding of different cultures, norms, and values

cultural sensitivity training vietnam

This training is tailored for people visiting or relocating to a new country and focuses on promoting empathy, respect, and effective communication among people of different backgrounds.

Besides this, Thijs also states how cultural sensitivity training helps with the practical side of relocating, making it all-encompassing in its approach. 

Why Is Cultural Sensitivity Training Important?

Promote Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion

In an increasingly interconnected world, diversity, equality, and inclusion (DE&I) are among the most important components to ensure business success. According to Thijs, not only does DE&I mean more people feel like they’re a part of the team, it also opens up the talent pool to individuals of various nationalities. 

By incorporating cultural sensitivity training into your business, you can ensure you’re promoting as much diversity, equity, and inclusion as possible

  • Improve Employee Engagement & Productivity

Cultural sensitivity training also improves employee engagement and productivity. According to a report by Diversity For Social Impact, ​​organizations that implemented comprehensive sensitivity training programs saw a 34% rise in employee engagement and a 19% increase in productivity.

The report states that cultural sensitivity training seeks to improve communication, and when people communicate better, they work better. 

Gain Workplace Flexibility

Cultural sensitivity training builds bridges between individuals and their cultures. This is accomplished not by repressing differences but by encouraging them. According to Thijs, this builds workplace flexibility because a company full of people from various backgrounds will always have someone who’s right for a specific role. At the end of the day, it’s about highlighting the strengths of each individual and their culture. 

How Is Cultural Sensitivity Training Run? 

In our conversation with Thijs, he provided an outline of what he talks about in his cultural sensitivity training sessions. However, before getting into the process itself, he addressed three key ideas people need to understand.

  • Culture Just Is

Most cultures around the world have developed themselves over centuries. As such, it’s crucial to accept that culture just is. Culture is neither good nor bad, and, therefore, it’s not for us to pass judgment on. 

Ultimately, you’ll have a much harder time expanding your business to a new country or onboarding people from different places if you don’t see and accept the local culture as it is. 

  • Culture Is Relative

The second idea Thijs believes people need to understand is that culture is relative

For example, when Dutch people work with French people, the Dutch typically find the French less punctual. However, the French will find people from Vietnam equally less punctual compared to themselves. For punctuality–as well as other cultural traits)–each culture has a relative position on the revolving scale. 

  • Taste The Water

Lastly, to truly understand a foreign culture, Thijs stresses the importance of tasting the water that you swim in. Basically, you need to be immersed in a culture to truly come to any understanding of what makes it so. 

Address Cultural Differences

Moving on to the actual process of cultural sensitivity training, Thijs begins by addressing cultural differences. A culture’s background, traditions, and customs are highlighted to help people better grasp what a culture is at its core, as well as why it’s like that

Explore Bias And Stereotypes 

Thijs also likes to explore biases and stereotypes in his cultural sensitivity training programs. By doing so, it’s possible to gain a deeper understanding of a culture, all the while destigmatizing particular biases and stereotypes people might have.

Untangling Cross-Cultural Communication

When talking to someone from another country, so much can get lost in translation. This is why Thijs spends a lot of time working out the nuances that make up cross-cultural communication. These sessions cover everything from how to communicate to typical pitfalls, and conflict resolution. 

→ Before moving on, Thijs also clarifies the fact that training activities can vary depending on context and goal. For example, sales-specific training will differ from cultural sensitivity training that’s focused on team building.

What Do Foreign Companies In Vietnam Need To Know?

According to Thijs, companies and individuals moving to the country can benefit from cultural sensitivity training because this will help them understand what it’s like to live in the country as a foreigner. Thijs is more than qualified to offer advice and insights on the subject: as a foreigner, he can provide personal anecdotes of his time here. 

Below are a few culture shocks Thijs says you might expect to face if you move to Vietnam as a foreigner. 

Gift Giving

A lot of gift-giving is involved in business in Vietnam, so it’s crucial to understand what’s appropriate and what’s not. This custom can tie directly into building long-lasting relationships, so learning about gift-giving can help you make valuable partners and make business processes easier in the long term. 

Importance Of Seniority

While seniority is valued in most parts of the world, in Vietnam, age carries a special significance. Understanding this and showing proper respect to seniors without undermining the value of younger workers is paramount to business success.

Decision Making

Another shock you might experience in Vietnam is that decision-making here is done on a consensus-based model. While a leader might have more power, unity and group harmony are imperative, and it’s vital to make sure everyone feels heard rather than rushing through decisions. 

How Can Cultural Sensitivity Training Help Companies In Vietnam? 

In order to help foreign individuals and companies moving to Vietnam, Thijs bases his cultural sensitivity training programs on books like The Culture Map by Erin Myer and studies by Dutch social psychologist, Geert Hofstede

cultural sensitivity training for companies in vietnam

Using these as a foundation for his training, his sessions usually include: 


Understanding the difference between low-context and high-context communication is key to effectively communicating across cultures. Low-context means you’re clear and precise with your words. High-context is a little less so–Reading between the lines is necessary.  


Leadership styles vary depending on where you’re from. Some countries have a more egalitarian style of leadership whereas other countries put individuals at the top of the pyramid. In Vietnam, there’s a larger power distance between leaders and employees. 

Building Trust

In some cultures, trust is built over achievements. In others, trust is built over relationships. In Vietnam, going out to drink with colleagues is one of the most important ways to build trust with team members (although this practice is phasing out in younger companies and generations). 

→ These are just a few ways in which cultural sensitivity training can help. However, no matter what it is you want to learn, Thijs also stresses the importance of understanding how you learn as well. 

According to Growth Engineering, learning and development can be categorized into the 70:20:10 framework. This states that 70% of learning occurs through hands-on experience, 20% through interactions with friends and colleagues, and 10% through formal training

Cultural sensitivity training is formal training, which is why it’s important to learn to apply knowledge gained from formal training during informal, hands-on scenarios. This is when you really begin to see change. 

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