Traditional Vietnamese Worldview

Group Orientation
Family and close friends including work teams form identity and dictate behavior. Difficult to trust those outside the “in group.”

Maintaining harmony and face are of utmost importance.

Relationship Focused
Personal interaction and relationship required before work and tasks can be accomplished

Hierarchy defined by seniority and status are observed, but behind the scenes opinions of many must be considered. Confucian rule: “Honor the hierarchy first, your vision of truth second.”

Tolerance for Ambiguity
New situations are accepted, but clear managerial guidance is expected.

Enforcement of rules and structures takes into consideration context and relationship. Even signed contacts may be broken.

Fluid Time 
Time comes after relationship, and it is accepted that honoring relationship may interfere with keeping strictly to a time table or schedule. Being on time in business is important, but meetings and appointments do not end on time.

Cultural Notes:

  • Vietnam is one of the fastest changing societies in the world and the fastest growing economy outside of China.
  • The Vietnamese lived under Chinese rule for 1000 years and, in modern times, 100 years of French colonialism.

Guidelines for Communicating with the Vietnamese

  • Use a reserved, measured tone and be prepared to engage in light-hearted conversation before business discussion.
  • Questions about age, marital status, religion and income are common and may seem unusually personals for some cultures.
  • Tidy appearance communicates respect for yourself and others.
  • Never criticize directly Avoid intense eye contact.
  • Practice “xin phep,” expressing opinions and requests by saying “If it’s all right with you I’d like to suggest…..” or “Please allow me to suggest….” Boasting or direct self-promotion will be met with embarrassment.
  • Modesty and humility do not mean a lack of self-confidence.
  • Third party introductions are more effective than self-introduction.
  • Building relationships is the most important outcome of communication.
  • Show respect and genuine interest for Vietnamese history through knowledge

Cultural Assumptions

  • Family, group affiliation and loyalty come first.
  • Maintaining harmony is the first consideration in communication.
  • Language must communicate respect and face.
  • Humility and modesty over self-promotion Hierarchy respected.
  • Education is highly valued.
  • Patience is required to reach the best end result.
  • A calm, measured personality is a sign of respect and maturity Fate and destiny dictate the type of life an individual will have. Hardship is accepted as part of life.
  • Indirectness shows respect for the other’s intelligence.

Traditional Vietnamese Communication Style

Indirectness shows respect for another’s intelligence and ability to be perceptive.

High Context
A smile can show uneasiness or embarrassment. A completely blank or “wooden face” shows extreme disappointment and may imply that the relationship is over. Vietnamese are adept at reading these implicit messages from one another.

Formal / Informal
Titles, greetings and other formalities are necessary to showrespect for individuals and hierarchy. However, Vietnameseprefer an informal, “easy” style of communication that enablesthem to sense what type of person they are dealing withand to build relationships.

Anger or any exaggerated emotion is a sign of immaturity, and should never be directed at another individual. Indirect ways of expressing opinions must be honored to maintain face and harmony.

Harmony comes before objective truth. Lack of harmony in-terferes with successful relationships and makes it nearly im-possible to move forward.

Non-Verbal Dynamics

Traditional Vietnamese greeting is to clasp the hands slightly above the waist and bow slightly. Western handshakes are common in business. Arms crossed or hands on the hips while speaking is seen as aggressive.

Men and women of the same sex typically walk hand in hand. Avoid touching members of the opposite sex, except during a brief business handshake. Touching the head, shoulders and back-slapping are also unacceptable.

Private space, in public and in the home, is rare. In the cities, streets are crowded and people may seem less polite since they are not with “in group” individuals. Elders may be given more space as a sign of respect.

Business Practices

PROBLEM SOLVING May be lengthy and attempt to take into consideration the needs and feelings of all involved. Problems are identified as a group challenge rather than the fault or responsibility of one individual.
MOTIVATING PEOPLE Solid working relationships and feeling in a safe, harmoniousenvironment. Care and supervision from superiors in exchange for respect and deference.
APPRAISING PERFORMANCE Must be done very carefully in order to protect face of all involved.Areas of improvement must be suggested as issues “we” must address.
PERFORMANCE EXPECTATIONS Employees are expected to follow the detailed directions of a supervisor. In return, supervisors make sure that everyone feels heard and part of the team.
NEGOTIATING, PERSUADING While only key individuals will be involved in negotiations, the largergroup must be on board, so final negotiations may take a long time toaccommodate behind-the-scenes meetings. Silence is used as a tool forgetting more information. Negotiations are more to test commitment to the relationship than to wear opponent down. Overstretch what you are asking for. Patience is key.
DECISION MAKING PROCESS Decisions are handed down from the top of the hierarchy, but attention is given to the needs of all in behind-the-scenes meetings. Agreeing to disagree is not an option.
PARTICIPATION IN MEETINGS The message in the meeting is decided by the group in pre-meetings before the formal meeting occurs. Only the most senior members will speak.
Hierarchy is respected. Superiors take care of their employees by tightly managing and paying attention to personal needs. Subordinates offer respect and loyalty in return.
HIRING May be highly nepotistic. Who you know is as important as what you know.
CUSTOMER RELATIONS Customers are people with whom the company has a tight, longstanding relationship. Very difficult to break that relationship once established unless face is severely lost.