How to Do Business the Vietnamese Way
Foreign direct investment has never been so high in Vietnam, and more people are doing business in Vietnam every year. But as every CEO knows, business is about developing and maintaining good relationships more than anything else. Here are some cultural considerations to keep in mind when setting up a business meeting in Vietnam.
Bring Business Cards
Business cards are very important in Vietnam. Handing one out is usually the first contact point when meeting someone new or entering a meeting. When receiving and giving out business cards, always use both hands: it is a sign of respect. Spend a moment reviewing the card and never tuck it in your pocket. Keep it near you until the meeting’s end and then put it away. Tip: get a separate card case to store your cards so they look fresh when you present them.
Eat What You Are Served
If you are offered tea or water at a meeting, acknowledge the hospitality. It is considered rude to not take at least a polite sip. You don’t need to finish your drink. The same applies to food placed onto your plate. Furthermore, if you are sharing a family-style meal with a business partner, do not pick up the last piece of food. It is meant to be there. However, should someone put it onto your plate, it is open season for your belly!
Write Ahead of Time
In the earlier stages of a business relationship, there should be a larger emphasis on formalities and civilities. Before meeting a potential partner, it is best to engage in written correspondence. All business communication should be written in a very formal style.
Vietnamese people prefer to build working relationships through face-to-face meetings. Invest some time establishing a solid personal and business relationship. Generally, initial meetings are solely used to get to know one another better.
Watch Your Body Language
Use your whole hand to point things out instead of using only a single finger. Also, keep your hand gestures to a minimum. Gesticulation in business meetings can be construed as rude and tends to make Vietnamese uncomfortable.
Bring a Gift
It is customary to bring a small gift if you are meeting a partner for the first time or on special occasions such as Tet, birthdays and anniversaries. The gift does not have to be expensive, but make sure that there is enough for everyone. If the gifts are of different values, the most senior person gets the most expensive. Bonus points if you wrap it in colourful paper.
Know a Bit of the Language
Vietnamese are not expecting you to grasp the language fluently, but knowing a few phrases goes a long way in business relationships.
Vietnam is notorious for its bureaucracy. You might have to go to the same ministry several times due to minuscule changes in the law or some other seemingly inane shred of red tape. Just take a deep breath and bear it.