Intercultural training – and then? Why it is so difficult for many to adapt to the Vietnamese culture despite trainings

Vietnam has been one of the top locations for foreign direct investment in the past years. In the past three years alone, investments amount 30 billion USD (Source: World Bank). This figure is even more impressive when seen in relation to the overall GDP of 191 billion USD (2015) of the country.

To ensure profitability of the investment many foreign specialists come to Vietnam, especially in leadership roles. There are currently around 75’000 foreigners living in the Southeast Asian county (Source: GSO Vietnam). With a total population of about 90 Million this number is still very low. The highly developed Singapore, for example, is home to 524’000 foreign citizens (Permanent Residents) (Source: Singapore Statistics Office) with a total population of only 5.6 Million.

Many foreigners find it difficult to get used to the Vietnamese culture. This is not surprising when having a closer look at the cultural differences. The results of the Lewis model give us a striking comparison.

The model distinguished linear-active from multi-active and reactive cultures.

Linear-active cultures are characterized among other things by the abilities of the people to follow action chains and get a thing done at a specific time. Furthermore, members of these cultures can plan and organize themselves well.

Members of multi-active cultures are usually talkative and do many things at the same time. They seldom keep to regular hours but prioritize according to the importance of an agreement.

Reactive cultures like Vietnam prioritize courtesies and respect, behave quietly and calmly towards their conversational partners and are often re-active: they wait for suggestions by the counterpart.

(Author’s note: the perception of what is polite and impolite is individual. Many foreigners in Vietnam perceive Vietnamese as very impolite people in daily life. The reason for these different perceptions can be found in different norms and in the relationship a person has in the current situation with his Vietnamese counterpart.)

In his model W. Arthur Lewis has made research about the characteristics of cultures in different countries and visualized them on a triangle.

It becomes evident that the Vietnamese culture is the most reactive of all analyzed cultural areas.

Compared to the research made by Hofsteede the graphics by Lewis shows clearly the cultural differences between Vietnam and most European countries and the U.S.

What do these differences mean?

People from the same or similar cultural areas usually understand each other more quickly because reactions, behaviors and the way of expressing oneself have got a cultural coding which can be easily de-coded in the light of the own cultural influence. In a globalized business world, however, it is less likely for teams with a mono-cultural background to find culturally adapted or global solutions for a problem. The more international a group or a team, the more important it becomes to bridge cultural gaps. If successful, diversity will help to find better solutions because the different perspectives of the team members will allow a broader variety of solutions; this is one of the reasons why most of the successful companies in the world strongly commit themselves to diversity.

Cultural awareness alone is not enough for success

For people who have been living in Vietnam for a long time these statements are not new. People who are currently preparing a foreign assignment in Vietnam should ask themselves realistically whether a potential intercultural training is enough to get prepared for the time abroad because the points of contact to the target culture are missing during the preparation time. Vietnam is for many people from the Western world a highly demanding host country compared to other countries. For the thousands of foreign work forces in Vietnam who are in daily interaction with the Vietnamese there will be no alternative to adapting their skills and behaviors in a way which is on the one hand culturally accepted and on the other hand successful: somebody who has for example understood cultural peculiarities of “losing face” in Vietnam and who tries in every situation to prevent his counterpart from getting into such a situation will often not achieve his goal and thus be just as little integrated as someone who might be temporarily successful with his leadership style or behavior but who shows too little respect for the country and its people.

This is how to build cultural bridges in the integration phase

How can cultural bridges be built? For developing cultural awareness cultural trainings are beneficial during the preparation time. Once arrived in Vietnam active guidance or training in the target country makes sense for most people. What can such a guidance and training look like?

The perception of every person is different. Thus, people do the same mistakes ever again and often do not learn from each other. Individual learning with culture contrast experiences is a way to learn culture and develop individual strategies (Cultural Intelligence) not only to understand the culture, but also to become successful in it. In the programs of “Mekong Retreat” you will experience real situation together with Vietnamese and learn from your own experience for your daily private life and in business. This learning process is guided with individual cultural training.

Are you interested in cultural training with culture contrast experiences? Please contact me for further information.