While business relationships and personal relationships are often two distinct entities in the U.S., they tend to merge in Vietnam. That should be the first clue that business etiquette in Vietnam may include small talk and the exchange of personal information. Even if discussions are not focused on business, you may still be evaluated for a potential business relationship based on how your personal interaction is going. The view on relationships isn’t the only difference between cultures when it comes to business etiquette in Vietnam.
Business card exchanges are crucial in Vietnam. In fact, not having a business card to exchange can be interpreted as having something to hide, so make sure you pack plenty before you go.
Expect to exchange them during your first meeting, and always give and take a business card using both hands. Your card exchange should begin with the most senior person, then move on down the line. Take a moment to read the card, pronounce the name, and acknowledge the title. Instead of using the title Mr. or Mrs., address senior business acquaintances by their titles and last names, such as Chairman, Director, or Manager.
Shaking hands is customary at the start and the end of a meeting. For those who don’t extend their hands for a handshake, acknowledge them with a slight bow of the head.
Be sure to give proper respect based on rank and seniority. Most seating positions at meetings are arranged by rank, importance, and seniority of the attending members.
Punctuality is of high importance in Vietnam, as is dressing well to fit the corporate environment. Most meetings include a serving of tea and something to eat, both of which you should at least sample to avoid being impolite.
Having your written materials translated into Vietnamese is a good idea, as many will be most comfortable with materials in their native language.
One-on-one negotiations are rare, as most decisions in Vietnam are made by a committee. If you do have a moment to speak directly with a senior or high-ranking individual, only spent a few minutes on small talk and then dive into business. They are busier than those of lower rank, where you can focus instead on relationship building.
If you need a translator to overcome language barriers, make sure you bring or hire your own. Translators working for you will keep your best interests in mind, while those working for other companies will do the same for that company.
Because the Vietnamese tend to avoid unpleasantness, they may say “yes” when they mean “no.” Or they may say something is “no problem” when there may be an issue. Make sure you check all commitments several times to ensure action will be taken or the deal will proceed.
Giving gifts in a business environment may be viewed as a bribe, as bribes and corruption are not uncommon in Vietnam. To avoid misinterpretation of a gift, only give them if you are invited to someone’s home.
Wrap your gifts in colorful paper, and make sure gifts for senior and higher-ranking individuals are more elaborate than those for less senior executives. Bringing a gift for the hostess, children and elderly relatives is commonplace – consider something like soaps, cosmetics, lamps, or something they can use during daily activities. Whiskey is an ideal business gift for colleagues.
Now that you have a good grasp on business etiquette in Vietnam, you just need to make sure you have an updated passport, a Vietnam business visa, and enough formal business attire to get you through your meetings and dealings. Feel free to contact Swift with any questions; we’re always happy to help!