Vietnamese vs American Styles

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VIETNAMESE VS. AMERICAN

Vietnam’s admission to the World Trade Organization together with the normalization of trade relations between the U.S. and Vietnam has opened great opportunities for many American companies to do business in this rapidly growing country. However, cultural barriers can adversely affect business transactions right from the negotiation process. American companies seeking a successful cross-cultural negotiation in Vietnam should understand, tolerate, and adapt to the differences in communication style between their home country and Vietnam. The purpose of this research paper is to provide some insights into communication style nuances between the two countries, the benefits of intercultural proficiency in business, and approaches American companies should adopt to enhance cross-cultural negotiation with Vietnamese companies.  Differences in communication styles between the Vietnamese and Americans Verbal and nonverbal communication. Edward Hall places countries along a high-context, low-context continuum. According to this anthropologist, communicators in a high-context culture, such as the Vietnamese, depend significantly on contextual or non-verbal aspects of communication, while people in low-context cultures like Americans prefer explicit, verbally expressed communications. American businesspeople greatly value the importance of words in contracts and negotiations. They always take words literally and favor directness in their speech. Americans can hardly stand awkward silence and tend to lose their tempers easily when facing work delays (Guffey & Loewy, 2011). Vietnamese people, on the other hand, place more emphasis on surrounding context. They highly esteem harmonious relationships; therefore, they prefer using indirect ways to express refusal or objection. To the Vietnamese, a refusal may indicate disrespect and tarnish their image in their partners’ minds. For them, the relationship is more valuable than a mere fact (Esmond, Jr., & Pham, 2011). While Americans dislike silence, Vietnamese people view silence as respect and wisdom. Silence demonstrates people’s deep thought and careful actions. Thus, Vietnamese businesspeople usually appear calm and patient when conducting business transactions. Even when it comes to the expression of thankfulness or apology, the Vietnamese still utilize nonverbal mediums: silence or a smile. For example, people who give a compliment never expect a “thank you” in return. A verbal expression of thanks in Vietnamese culture implies the lack of modesty. Vietnamese people are more likely to smile in response to a compliment. In some cases, they may even verbally express that they do not deserve it. In Vietnam, a smile can also substitute an apology for a minor offense. Additionally, people can only smile when greeting each other or when they want to acknowledge the mistakes committed (Vietnam-culture website, 2011). While Americans usually look at their partners’ eyes when they are speaking, Vietnamese people tend not to do that, especially when they talk to elder people. American businesspeople operating in Vietnam, who fail to understand this difference, may associate that behavior with dishonesty (Kohl, 2007). Formality. Vietnamese people place more importance on social status than Americans; therefore, they tend to be more formal at work. While Americans often dress casually and call people by their first names, Vietnamese businesspeople prefer formal suits and call others by their titles. Americans favor straightforwardness, so they often come to the point immediately. Preference for directness, together with the low power distance, enables employees in American culture to speak up to their bosses (Guffey & Loewy, 2011). On the contrary, Vietnamese people do not like to embark on serious business negotiations until after opportunities to establish relationship with business partners. Additionally, in this high power-distance culture, authority and...
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