Vietnam is known for its breath-taking beaches, extravagant architecture and sumptuous cuisine. It’s also emerging as an economic powerhouse that’s ripe with opportunities. Since the United States trade embargo was lifted in 1994, U.S. companies have tapped into Vietnam’s 93 million-plus consumer market. The first step for business majors planning to study abroad in one of Southeast Asia’s most robust economies is to become familiar with business practices in Vietnam.
Pay Attention to Your Body Language
It’s often said your actions speak louder than words. This adage rings true in Vietnamese culture when it comes to your body language. You don’t want to come across as rude, so it’s best to avoid the following gestures:
- Pointing with one finger
- Crossing your arms when you’re standing
- Placing your hands on your hips while standing
Address Everyone Properly
In the U.S., people are formerly introduced using a person’s title and last name, such as Mr. Smith or President Johnson. In Vietnam, the names are arranged differently. The order is last name, middle name and first name, so you would address them by their title and first name. For example, if someone’s name is Nguyen Nam Thuy, you would refer to him as Mr. Thuy. Titles are held in high regard, and status is earned based on age and education.
Make the Appropriate Greeting
Tradition meets modernity when it comes to the way Vietnamese greet others. Generally, handshakes are not customary except in the big cities among the younger generation. Otherwise, the Vietnamese grab one another’s hands and bow slightly.
Acknowledge the Hierarchy
Vietnamese business organizations are top-down hierarchical structures. In these environments, the respect for elders and senior partners is of utmost importance. The oldest person in the company is the key influencer when it comes to generating ideas and making decisions. Reverence for supervisors and colleagues is based on the following:
- Job position
Bring a Gift
Who doesn’t like a gift? In Vietnam, gift-giving takes place on a regular basis. Giving gifts is a great way to express your appreciation, and it goes a long way toward establishing rapport with potential business partners. It’s not necessary to spend tons of money. Some popular gift-giving items are flowers and fruit.
Exchange Business Cards With Care
Respect is the foundation of business practices in Vietnam. This even includes the way business cards are exchanged. When you receive or give a card, always use both hands or your right hand. Here are a few additional tips:
- Lay the cards on the table in front of you until each person is seated.
- Look over the card with interest.
- Refrain from writing on the card unless you’re told to do so.
- Avoid placing the card in your back pocket.
- Print your cards in Vietnamese and English.
Additionally, present your card with the lettering facing the recipient. The Vietnamese can tell a lot about you by the way you handle the cards. Respecting the business card is a sign that you will respect them in your business affairs.
Prepare for Traditional Meetings
Vietnamese prefer face-to-face meetings that are scheduled within two days or less. These gatherings are often lengthy because your prospective business partners enjoy small talk as a way of getting to know you. The favorite topics include sports and family. For example, you can make a positive impression discussing the English Premier League.
Because there’s respect for hierarchy, high-ranking officials always enter the meeting first followed by their other colleagues. Always greet each member individually. Additionally, punctuality is a top priority, so don’t arrive late. If you can’t make it on time, notify your host immediately.
Prepare for Prolonged Negotiations
Negotiations in a Vietnamese business setting are time-consuming. In the culture, decisions are thought through carefully, so conclusions aren’t made quickly. Every stakeholder is consulted before any decisions are made. When discussing details, your Vietnamese counterparts may sit in silence for long periods of time before sharing their responses. If there is a disagreement, they will keep quiet as a way of saving face. When a decision is reached, follow up with a written agreement. This ensures everyone is on the same page, and there are no misunderstandings about the negotiations.
Immerse Yourself in Southeast Asia’s Emerging Paradise
This is an exciting time to explore the rich culture of Vietnam. Its combination of ancient traditions, modern amenities and economic growth, make it a robust learning environment for students interested in studying Vietnam business culture.