8 Essential Tips for Vietnam Business Culture

1. Meetings are not confirmed until close to the time

In Vietnam business culture, although meetings may be planned weeks in advance, meeting times are not necessarily set in stone. When doing business in Vietnam, it is important to confirm – a day or two before it is due to happen – that the meeting is still on course to take place at the originally scheduled time.

When contacting someone to confirm the engagement, it is also good Vietnam business culture to request details of the relative seniority of the employees of the business you are dealing with. You should also be ready to provide similar facts about your own delegation. Vietnamese tradition, which is woven into business practice, places a lot of importance on respect for rank, as you will see in the second of our facts.

2. A first meeting should be used for breaking the ice.

Although you may want to get straight down to business, Vietnamese business culture demands a somewhat more sedate approach to proceedings. Getting to know your business partners is seen as absolutely necessary in Vietnamese culture and, to that end, a significant part of the first meeting – maybe even the whole of it – is likely be focused on the two groups getting comfortable with each other’s presence. You should be patient with this approach, as it will play an important part in how much respect you gain and, therefore, how likely you are to be able to develop the business relationship.

3. Start a meeting in line with Vietnamese business culture

When the day comes and the meeting takes place, it is important to respect the Vietnamese custom of paying adequate respect to business partners. You should enter the meeting room in order of importance, with the most senior member of your team leading the way. This may be slightly alien to those used to the relatively negative regard in which bowing to seniority is held in American culture, but it is courteous to follow this Vietnamese custom when doing business in Vietnam.

In Vietnamese business etiquette, handshakes will be shared as you enter the room, but if a female member of the hosts’ delegation does not offer her hand you should give a small bow of your head instead. You should sit in the order you enter the room, along one side of the table, with each person facing the member of the business partner’s group that is the same number in the pecking order as them.

Whereas, in American culture, it is common business practice to throw business cards around like confetti – and also to have them treated in a similar way – the Vietnamese custom is quite different. You are likely to be formally presented with a business card in the meeting. You should do more than cast a cursory glance at it and shove it in your pocket or leave it on the table. Take the time to look over at it and make sure that you understand the role of the person who has presented it. You should return the favor – with two hands and making sure that the card is facing the receiver the correct way up for them to read. You should also start by giving the first card to the most senior member of the team and working your way down. It is also a good idea to have your picture on the card though it is not very popular in Vietnam to do so. Additionally, it is recommended that you make it double sided, with information in English on one side and in Vietnamese on the other.

4. You should address partners formally.

Another mark of respect prevalent in Vietnamese culture is the formal manner in which people are addressed. When talking to or of a member of your hosts’ delegation, the honorific that you use before the surname should be the role that the person holds within their organization. When addressing someone, you should make sure that you are familiar with which of their names you should be using. Vietnamese names are of the form surname, forename, middle name. You should establish early on in the relationship that the person is comfortable with the title you are addressing them with.

It is good Vietnamese business culture that the most senior member of your delegation is the spokesperson in any meetings that you have. They should address the most senior member of the hosts’ delegation when negotiations are being held.

5. Dress is expected to be formal.

A suit and tie are the norm for meetings in Vietnam business culture. They should not be brightly colored or garish. Dress should be conservative in color and style for both men and women, who should wear high necked blouses, shoes with little or no heel and, if they are opted for, skirts which extend to below the knee. There should be no attempt to ‘peacock’ by any members of your delegation. Attention should be focused on the most senior members of the delegation because of their position, not on any person because of their appearance. You will notice that some Vietnamese ladies were ao dai, the tradition dress of Vietnam to formal meetings and ceremonies.

6. Be prepared for negotiations to go slowly.

Because of the deferential nature of interactions in Vietnam business culture – and the need to speak through a spokesperson in meetings – discussion of terms and proposals can take some time. Although you may be used to the fast pace of business in American culture, have patience with such interactions – impatience will be seen as disrespectful and is likely to be harmful to your chances of making any potential deals happen.

7. Be ready to give and receive gifts.

Do not be surprised if you are presented with gifts at the end of a business meeting. You should also be ready to give something in return. Gifts are representative of the strengthening of the business relationship. They should not be of too large a value, as they could be mistaken for an attempt at bribery. However, gifts for senior members of the hosts’ delegation should be of greater value or significance than those for more junior members. When receiving a gift, you should look to your hosts to determine whether or not to open it at the time.

8. Dinner is a good idea.

Usually, the hosts will offer and organize dinner. You should organize a similar event in return. Business matters are not usually discussed during the meal. The hosts will start the meal with a toast, but the most senior member of your delegation should be ready to give a toast of their own, also. At the end of the meal, your delegation should excuse themselves from the table first, as it is Vietnamese tradition for the hosts to accommodate guests for as long as they wish to stay. You should make sure that your hosts are aware of how thankful you are, as is pertinent whenever you receive anything from them.

It is good business practice to make efforts to get to know the personnel of the company that you are in talks with. In Vietnamese culture, business relationships are not seen as purely necessity-based. The way that you treat your business partners, both socially and formally, is likely to be taken into account when they are assessing whether or not to make business deals with you. Developing strong social ties can go a long way towards cementing successful relationships with Vietnamese businesses.

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