When working with the Vietnamese it is important to remember that there are essentially two Vietnams. The North is dominated by the capital, Hanoi, which is also the seat of learning and is far more conservative than the south. French and American influences are apparent in the south, the commercial centre of which is Ho Chi Minh City, or Saigon. Attitudes here are more liberal; women have greater power and companies are more exposed to foreign business practice. Making a favourable impression on the Vietnamese is easy if you’re prepared to be well mannered, calm and friendly.
Here are some cultural business strategies to work more effectively with the Vietnamese:
1. In every conversation, it is important never to put a Vietnamese person in an embarrassing situation, especially in front of their colleagues. Causing somebody to lose face is the quickest way to guarantee losing a deal. This fear of losing face means that Vietnamese are very cautious in conversation and tend to lack spontaneity.
2. Vietnamese work extremely well in teams and will form close bonds, treating the workplace as an extended version of the family. They have a strong work ethic, are generally well educated and are more competitive than some other Asians.
3. Leadership is directly associated with seniority and it is unlikely you will find a young person leading an older team; the team would find it difficult to show the manager respect. It is more effective to adopt the local style of management. Having said this, there is more of a move in some companies towards a more productive, Western style of working; it is up to the foreign manager to judge this.
4. When giving positive feedback, do not single out individuals for praise in front of others. This should be done privately, or those not being praised will lose face. The feelings of the group are more important than those of the individual.
5. Vietnamese people are most motivated by the feeling of belonging to a family. The boundaries of immediate family and the extended family in the workplace can become very blurred in the minds of the Vietnamese worker. Vietnamese managers work hard to build loyalty among employees to enhance these feelings of belonging.
6. Vietnamese will go to great lengths to avoid conflict and confrontation. Losing one’s temper causes a serious loss of face and even raising one’s voice is a sign of lack of control. Expressing anger and frustration is also guaranteed to hinder progress.
7. Decision-making in Vietnam can be a very slow process since it is consensus-based. An individual who appears to be the decision maker will only be one voice among many. It is important to realise this as it is too easy to become frustrated at somebody’s apparent inability to exercise any power.
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