Vietnam is a country brimming with great potential for growth, which offers many possibilities to foreign investors. However, it is also distinguished by the particular way business negotiations are conducted there. How should you prepare for them? What should you know when paying a visit to this part of the Indochinese peninsula?

The first meeting with a prospective foreign partner is of great importance for Vietnamese entrepreneurs. The thing of special significance to them is the deeply rooted tradition, where hierarchy holds the key role. This attachment to tradition may manifest itself in various ways during business meetings. First and foremost, your partner will surely try to determine our rank and their own position in relation to you. Therefore, it is vital that you comply with these rules. The person higher in the hierarchy should enter a room first. The sitting arrangement is also decided by rank and seniority. The Vietnamese are also very particular about the details, like attire, accessories or gadgets you use. Valuable accessories, like a fashionable watch or the latest phone model are, in their mind, a proof of one’s resourcefulness, which may in turn positively influence their view of your company.

First impressions and business cards

The Vietnamese, although very attached to their own culture, usually conduct business negotiations in English or with the help of an interpreter. However, it’s worth spending some time on getting acquainted with basic polite phrases used in Vietnamese language before the first meeting. A foreigner able to properly greet them in their own
language will come off to the Vietnamese as somebody respectful of their culture and customs. The first meeting is also a good time to exchange business cards. They should be given and received using both hands. After being given a card, you should not stash it away immediately, but spend some time studying it first.

Easy misunderstandings

The Vietnamese are very polite, which can lead to many misunderstandings during business negotiations with foreign partners. A smile and a head nod may be nothing more than signs of acknowledging the fact that you are talking, not – as is the case in western cultures – acceptance or agreement.
In turn, silence and lack of response may often be interpreted as a polite way of showing one’s dissatisfaction or objection. For this reason, after the initial arrangements, it’s advisable to make sure that both parties have properly understood them.

Careful with presents

Presents are welcomed in business relations, but they should only be offered in the later stages of the negotiations, e.g. during less formal dinners. A gift offered at the office may be perceived as an attempt at bribery.
A good idea for a present is a bottle of cognac or whisky, or a regional gift from your home country. Similarly to business cards, presents should also be given and received with both hands.

Interesting facts:

Although Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh, formerly Saigon, is the true center of business.
Among the 190 countries included in the ”Ease of doing business 2017” index prepared by the World Bank Group, Vietnam ranked the 82nd place. Although it did not score high, thanks to its strong economy, the country is a great place for prospective investors to conduct their business in.
Vietnamese is a tonal language that has as many as 6 tones. Therefore, it may be difficult for a European to properly speak and comprehend it. For this reason, business meetings are usually conducted in English or with the help of an interpreter.