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How to avoid misunderstandings in Vietnam

There are many advantages in outsourcing to Vietnam. You can read about all of them here.

Do you know how to behave in Vietnam? Outsourcing will never be entirely without difficulties, but if you familiarise yourself with the country and its business culture, you can avoid many misunderstandings.

Do not criticise directly

You may have heard it before: In Vietnam, they communicate indirectly to avoid losing face.

What exactly does this mean for you when you talk to your Vietnamese business contacts?

First of all, you should be careful when giving feedback. Depending on where you are from you might be used to saying things as they are.

If you are standing with a component in your hand that is not of the quality you expected, and you say: “I am not satisfied with this part. Can you redo it, please?”, you are used to direct communication.

The above scenario is too direct in a Vietnamese context. In Vietnam, you must be more indirect. E.g. you can say, “I had hoped for a higher quality.”

In this way, you do not cause the other party to lose face and still let him know that improvements must be made.

A yes may as well be a no

A challenge that many people encounter is that a yes in Vietnam can be a no. To let each other save face, they don’t give direct rejections. It is simply unseen.

Maybe it may seem strange and challenging, but in Vietnam it is common practice.

You should be aware in conversation, whether your Vietnamese contact hesitates, drags out the conversation, or otherwise seems disinterested. It is a difficult discipline, but a necessity.

Likewise, you as well should be careful giving direct rejections. If you do, it might be seen as impolite and disrespectful.

Where do you belong in the hierarchy?

The power distance in Vietnam is large. It means that the difference between boss and employee is big, and this is broadly accepted.

Accordingly, you might experience that your Vietnamese contact will try placing you in the hierarchy when they meet you for the first time.

To achieve this, they may ask for your professional position, age, family or other personal information. You should not feel offended if they ask these kinds of questions. It is part of Vietnamese culture and common practice.

Conclusion: What should you remember when you go to Vietnam for the first time?

You are now standing at the airport, having just arrived in Vietnam. First, you quickly pass the hotel and drop off your luggage. Maybe you take an afternoon nap to recover from the long flight. And then you are off to your first business meeting in Vietnam.

What do you have to remember?

  • The Vietnamese communicate indirectly. If they are unhappy, they don’t say it outright.
  • You should be careful giving direct negative feedback. If you do, it will be considered impolite, and you put your future business contact in an awkward position.
  • You will not get a direct no, and you should not give one yourself either.
  • Hierarchy is a big part of Vietnamese culture. Therefore, you should talk to the boss and respect the power distance. Also, you will presumably be put in a hierarchical system.

Remember that they have different traditions in Vietnam than here in Europe. For example, they celebrate New Year later than us. Find out when the Vietnamese New Year falls this year.