For American clients who are interested in investing or doing business in Vietnam, I’ve assembled the following list of essentials that are likely to make life a bit easier:
- Honor Confucian and Buddhist values: strong family orientation; strict hierarchies; top-down decision making; obedience to authority, seniority and age; need for balance and harmony. Dress and behave conservatively.
- Be patient. Transactions are usually affected by politics, procedures, infrastructure, and personal relationships. Avoid making assumptions about attitudes and behaviors; they usually have cultural explanations.
- Expect change and contradictions. Vietnam is a dynamic, fast-changing country learning the ways of international business. Business culture changes rapidly, and modern Vietnamese often are conflicted between family and career, communism and capitalism, and Eastern and Western values.
- Show deep respect and humility. What you first experience in one of the world’s oldest civilizations is the outer layer of a large onion. Ask questions. Vietnamese people usually are honored to be asked about their culture.
- Teach teamwork and skills. The education system emphasizes individual competition and does not yet focus on collaboration, innovation, or the techniques of modern industry.
- Negotiate. Vietnam is a bargaining culture. Be joyful when negotiating and clear about the outcome.
- Be explicit about expectations. Vietnamese workers are accustomed to following instructions and obeying the boss; if you want feedback, suggestions, self-reliance, collaboration, or innovation, say it, write it — and show you mean it.
- Treat partners and workers with dignity. Be clear about rewards and punishment, and keep your promises. Avoid singling out individuals for criticism or praise or causing embarrassment.
- Cultivate local relationships. Share your personal life: family, hobbies, opinions, aspirations. Join associations that will help maintain relationships with authorities. Hire local talent — financial, investment, legal, and business professionals. Use modest gifts to express respect, appreciation and gratitude and to establish a boundary between gift-giving and bribery.