Outsourcing to Vietnam: Business Culture

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We’ve already discussed how outsourcing your IT needs and development projects to Vietnam can make a lot of business sense. But what about the culture?

In last week’s article, we visited some of the characteristics that make Vietnam a particularly attractive location for offshore IT outsourcing. Namely, these are its young, educated population (and abundance of software engineers), its openness to the world, and its cost-effectiveness when compared to many other markets.

Put simply, Vietnam just makes sense as an IT outsourcing destination.

However, once you’ve taken the decision to make use of a dedicated team of Vietnamese IT developers, what can you expect to encounter?

Vietnam is, after all, quite a different place culturally from ‘The West’, at least in some respects. Successful collaboration with a team of Vietnamese developers will be very forthcoming if you follow some simple, but key, considerations.

While the cultural quirks of Vietnam could be the subject of an entire book, we’ve outlined a few key ones to remember in business contexts:

1. Be Aware of ‘Face’

In Vietnam – as in many Asian cultures – the concept of ‘saving face’ is a powerful social force that guides all kinds of interpersonal interactions.

Imagine it this way: if you are having a meeting and someone says something that embarrasses you, you would ‘lose’ face. If someone says something that praises you, you ‘gain’ face.

Things that can make someone lose face include having their efforts disregarded or called wrong or low quality, calling someone a liar, or giving an elder a task without a dose of respect and reverence. Basically, it is about being polite at all times, and to understand that sometimes the best way to get something done is not to be direct, but to be subtle.

While working remotely with a team of professional Vietnamese developers will lessen the chances of cultural misunderstandings that could be possible in face-to-face interactions, it also helps to keep this notion in mind when giving feedback.

If you don’t like the way a piece of work has been handled, instead of saying “This is bad”, try saying “Why don’t we try it this way? I like that more”.

2. Build Personal Relationships

One of the main concerns people sometimes have with opting for outsourcing work remotely, is that they worry that it will be hard to build the kind of working relationship with someone where trust can be established without face-to-face interaction.

In Vietnam, personal bonds and relationships are very important, and this includes within the workplace.

The one thing that ties people in Vietnam together most is a shared reverence for one’s family; it just cannot be overstated how important family is in Vietnam.

So, if you want to build a close personal relationship with a Vietnamese person, a good place to start is by asking about their family! Expressing an interest in someone’s family is a natural and normal part of life in Vietnam, and they will appreciate it.

3. Respect Your Elders (And be respected as one!)

Vietnam is part of the ‘Sinosphere’, which is a term that is used to describe a collection of East Asian cultures that were heavily influenced by Chinese culture, through a combination of Chinese Imperial expansion and cultural diffusion.

One of the main effects of this was the spread of Confucianism, which is a value-based system of philosophy that heavily influenced Chinese culture.

A key element of Confucianism is a strict hierarchy of authority based on age, which first and foremost takes root in the family. The family is of incredible importance to Vietnamese people, as it is the nucleus that society is based on.

In Vietnam, the way people address each other is considered through a very detailed breakdown of how old the other person is in relation to yourself. So, for example, anyone that could be a younger sibling is called em, while someone the same age as an older sibling is called anh (older brother) and chi (older sister). These names go up all the way to ‘uncle who is older than your father’, and more.

So, age is important. If you are interacting with a Vietnamese person who appears to be older than you, then remember to speak to them with added respect. On the other hand, if you are older, you are allowed to be a little bit more demanding, so use it!

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