Meeting Protocol in Vietnam & Asia



In this episode: A discussion of how to conduct meetings in Vietnam and across Asia. Granger and Cam discuss some key points and reflections on previous meetings they have sat in, and some do’s & dont’s to remember.


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Below is a transcript of the episode, edited for readability.

Listen to the full episode at link below.

Granger: Good morning, Monday morning coffee here. This is Granger Whitelaw and I am joined as always with Cameron Lynch. Cam good morning.

Cam: Good morning. How are you doing?

Granger:  Well I am actually tired. It’s been a long week starting with my birthday last week and then Halloween and uh, you know, we got dressed up as a pirates and Rayssa was a gypsy. So we uh,

Cam: Pirates and gypsies, those two mix? I thought she was another pirate.

Granger: Well she’s my bounty.

Cam:  Okay.

Granger: Yeah and then we went trick or treating and over at BP compound and the hundreds of kids. It was awesome.

Cam: Really? There’s that many kids trick or treating here?

Granger: Oh my God, that’s treating so many. It was great cause like their moms are with them. And then I would like walk up behind them in this really scary, you know, kind of outfit.

Cam: Like a golden jaw and teeth.

Granger:  I had a golden jaw and teeth and uh, and just stand behind them and they would scream and all the kids would laugh. It was pretty funny.

Cam: That’s awesome. Yeah, I know I went very lame and just drew a lightning bolt on my head.

Granger: Did you? Harry Potter.

Cam: Harry Potter.

Granger: Harry Potter.

Cam:  Yeah, yeah. But then, you know, they got my face painted at District Federal.

Granger: Oh yeah?

Cam: They had a big, a face painting

Granger: And the Saturday night party at DF was good?

Cam: Yeah. Yeah. Oh. All you can drink, all you can eat.

Granger: You missed the bash at BP, with Mikey.

Cam:  Oh well you know I tried, I tried.

Granger: All you could drink tequila.

Cam: I went to sleep.

Granger: Well, um, what are we talking about today? Oh, here we’ll talk about meeting protocol in Vietnam.

Cam: Okay.

Granger: That’s a great subject.

Cam:  Yeah.

Granger: Well, you know, it’s really important that when I was coming to Vietnam a year and a half ago or whatever it was, I actually looked this up. Funny enough, you know, as I do, I kind of research things and I was like, yeah, I wonder what the meeting protocol is in Vietnam, just because it’s Asia. Right? And it can be different from China or Japan, but there’s a lot of similarities there.

Cam: Yes. Absolutely.

Granger: You’ve lived in Hong Kong.

Cam: Yeah. I never went to meetings in Hong Kong.

Granger:  But in school, right?

Cam:  Yeah yeah, exactly. So in school, I guess, I guess it still has that whole sense of hierarchy, but you know, high school is not necessarily the most focused on that business aspect and proper manners and pieces.

Granger: Yeah. But it has to, it takes serious here and, and more serious and in other places than, than not, in Hanoi probably there’s a little different protocol even than in Ho Chi Minh. Um, certainly in Japan I would think there is a much more protocol there than maybe Cambodia.

Cam: Yeah, for sure. I can imagine that to be the case. I mean,

Granger: In Singapore not so much, you know? Not really, it’s more Western.

Cam: I guess you could say that about Hong Kong in some respects too. You know, this fluid culture, transnational was, it was rampant there.  We’ll see how long that lasts for, um.

Granger: So one thing I did is I made business cards. It’s one of the first things I did because I never carry business cards in the U.S. right? I mean, most people know me and, or they’re on email or LinkedIn or whatever. If they want me. LinkedIn, I never even updated my LinkedIn. I don’t think I’ve updated it in 10 years or something. You know, I was one of the first people on LinkedIn, but here everyone use it. Actually your father was one of the people who told me, “Hey, update your LinkedIn.”

Cam:     Yeah, yeah. Got to get on LinkedIn.

Granger: Right? Right. So funny.

Cam: I’m emphatically checking LinkedIn all the time too.

Granger:  Are you? But here in a business sense, people do do that, right They’re very, very much so.

Cam: You know, I feel like it’s commonplace for to be almost like a digital resume, of course, as it is.

Granger: Right

Cam: But here I normally don’t ask for resumes. I ask for the LinkedIn, so I can see all their history. So it’s a great platform for that.

Granger: And it’s good also when you’re going to meet with someone to do a little background, maybe just out of respect, right? You’re going to meet someone, you want to know who they are and not just be like, “Uh what’s your name? What do you do?” You know? I mean you want to be educated and as you should, you should research companies before you go and visit them as well.

Cam: Yeah. I mean especially when you’re dealing with someone who, I mean my big points that it comes back to when it comes to meaning protocol is hierarchy. Age, age is vastly important here. For example, like people treat you different than they treat me obviously. But the big thing is because you,

Granger: It’s because I’m good looking. Oh no, you’re good looking too.

Cam: Maybe it’s the glasses but no, it’s, it’s really about age. I mean it’s phenomenal to see, but you know, you really have to be gentle and courteous. It’s all about consideration.

Granger: But you know, they say to hierarchy, right Um, that the most senior person should always enter the room first.

Cam: That sounds counter intuitive. I mean I feel like it should be the other way around at some point. Cause then,

Granger: Right? Because you think, okay, well when everyone’s ready then I’m going to walk my lazy butt in and sit down. Right. Cause I’m the chairman or whatever. So you know, in that, I’m not saying me but the person. Right. But that’s what they say. They say the most senior person should always enter the room first. I always hold the door for people. I wouldn’t do that just out of my own upbringing. Right. Somebody else’s really interesting hierarchy. Right. They say silence is very common in meetings here and if someone disagrees with another person, they generally don’t do it publicly. Right. And that’s about face and we’ll, we should talk about that.

Cam: We’ll get to that on Friday I believe. Um, but I think that is a big major consideration. Like as a person who hates silence, I’m always a talker so I always try to keep the conversation going. Or like having me a here.

Granger: You’re a talker?

Cam: You didn’t know that? So that is definitely something you got to get across and understand.

Granger: But even getting to the meeting, right, that I was really interested in this meeting should be scheduled several weeks in advance. Now that is something that is definitely a protocol if you, if you look it up, me researching Vietnam and you know, I didn’t realize that and I don’t really find that to be accurate. At least with the Western meetings I’m having with maybe some of the Asian Vietnamese meetings. It maybe is a little longer, government meetings certainly and I guess the type of meeting, right.

Cam: Yeah. And that plays a major role for sure. I mean I’m mostly, when I do have meetings it’s either Viet Kieu or formally educated Vietnamese or highly educated. So I mean I think they’re more open when it comes to that. But I think, uh, you have your audience, that’s for sure. Yeah.

Granger: Absolutely. Well and then you know, generally you don’t need a translator. If you do, you should arrange one. Okay. Out of courtesy. Right. Cause you don’t, you want the meeting to be fluid if you’re going to visit Vietnam. And for those of you out there listening who are coming here or are just getting here, certainly if you don’t speak Vietnamese, take a translator. I mean I hired one of the first week I was here, so you know, to help me with documents to help me with just the basic communication

Cam: Especially if you talking in a technical industry. You know, if you’re trying to talk about enterprise resource management systems or like EOP or anything like that, you need to have someone who can understand the vernacular in that industry and then also someone who can bring you into the fold and have you educate them or what they mentioned.

Granger: Sure, yeah. The more engineering based or technical based you definitely want a translator.

Cam: And there is no shortage of translators too, right. I feel like I’ve seen so many and it’s not just English and Vietnamese, it’s Japanese. Korean, you know.

Granger: Yeah. Korean is big here. Yeah. All the languages. So that’s a good thing to do for yourself. It also helps you kind of stay in the conversation. Um, be punctual, be on time. I mean, this is a pet peeve of mine, right. I used to have a rule in New York. You know, if my assistants knew if anyone was 15 minutes late and they hadn’t called at 16 minutes, they walk through the door, they can leave and reschedule. Right. Cause that’s my time. That’s other people’s time. That’s my assistant’s time. Right. Just call if you’re going to be late, you know, or text I guess now or something communicate. But don’t be late. I mean be early. Have respect.

Cam: Most of the time. I’m bizarrely too early. I’m about 30 minutes early.

Granger: I know. Funny enough like you and I, we are always early, right and uh we are well early, like 10, 15 minutes early.

Cam: Oh sometimes even like an hour I was like, okay, this does not take as long. I guess I’ll just sit in this coffee shop.

Granger: That’s a little long. Yeah. So that’s where you’ve been going in the daytime to the coffee shop. Yeah.

Cam: I’ve developed a theme.

Granger: How do you dress here? This is a good one. Right like, so I wear a lot of ties, right. And everyone’s like, Granger, Why do you wear a suit? In Ho Chi Minh it’s hot. And I’m like, because I think it’s proper and it’s how you should dress, right. I just believe that’s the way you should dress. I think it’s respectful and it shows that you care about what you’re doing. And you know, certainly I believe if you put a tie on, you’re going to feel different about yourself. You’re going to present yourself differently, and people are looking at you differently, right. And, uh, as they should. So it’s not required here. I think, uh, a jacket with no tie is okay.

Cam: Yeah, absolutely. I think that’s generally more common. The ties are very uncommon here because it’s kind of hot in Vietnam.

Granger: I mean, it’s kind of like Rick, Fiachra, Granger and the lawyers, I don’t even know. Right there’s nobody that wears ties here.

Cam: Yeah it’s very rare.

Granger: But those three guys you can usually see in ties. Right Uh, but yeah, no sir. Certainly a conservative dress for a woman is very important.

Cam: Never wear a hat, or at least take it off prior to the meeting. That’s a big thing.

Granger: Oh, there you go. Yeah, no hats. Would you shake hands Certainly shake hands when you meet someone and when you leave, um, don’t, uh, you know, don’t ignore anyone. Um, generally, uh, handshakes only take place between members of the same sex. So that’s a cultural thing, although it’s not actually used in practice because women here very much shake my hand in meetings. Um, uh, all the time. Uh, but more again, Western or Western educated, I think some of the traditional Vietnamese women may not. Um, but just be cautious of that. Don’t, don’t be overly aggressive at that, right If you approach someone in a woman or something and your man, they don’t want to shake hands that’s okay. Um, sometimes they use a two handed handshake, which is fine. Uh, but then you should use your left hand on top, so right handshake, left-hand on top. And that is the way to shake hands here.

Cam: That’s very detailed. I think I’m just gonna stop shaking hands.

Granger: But we’re talking about protocol, right Um, and you can bow to the elderly if they do not extend their hand. That is a cultural thing here. And I have done that many times. Um, so if you meet someone who’s older, you know, for you, that’s everybody. For me, that’s a third of the population. But you know, out of reverence and courtesy, I would slightly bow to them. Um, exchanging business cards is a big one. You do it with two hands.

Cam: Yeah.

Granger: And that’s something that people really do take seriously. Right. So when you hand somebody your card, hand it with two hands and take it with two hands if you can. You know, I find that a lot of times I have my cell phone in my hand.

Cam: I feel like a form of disrespect is like generally at The Vietnam Group we have very thick business cards. But if I’m, you have flimsy business cards and you give it to someone and they start bending it and deforming it, that’s a sign of very disrespectful attitude. I feel like at that point.

Granger: Yes it is.

Cam: It’s amazing. And some of this etiquette, you know, I’ve seen Vietnamese people will do this in fact too. So I think he kind of breaks down or there is some obvious tension and they decide to take it out in a passive way rather than an upfront way. I feel like there was something to be said for that. But you know, it’s also people very different. Everyone you meet them have different opinions.

Granger: True. And read the card, right I actually look at the card, you know, you don’t just hand it out and, and, and put it in front of you on the table. Now this is something I’ve always done and I do it also to help know where there’s five or six people in a room. I’ll actually put it in the order of their sitting.

Cam: Just so you can recall their name,

Granger: Right Because I can’t remember anything. So I mean that’s really the basics. I mean, you know, if you want to give somebody a gift, um, it’s fairly common to do this at the end of the meeting, um, or during a meal in honor someone. But, uh, they are not, um, required certainly at all. And you do not want them to be misrepresented as a bribe, uh, certainly in which they’re not meant to be. If you’re just meeting someone, you’re not going to bring them a gift generally. Um, but you know, these are things that take into account when you’re going to meetings in Vietnam and other places in Asia. And it’s very important. So, you know, we’re here to talk about thoughts on, you know, how you can improve your business and what you can do to improve yourself in business in Southeast Asia and Vietnam. So meeting protocol is definitely something to take seriously and be aware of. Um, and always I say, say please and thank you and, uh, look people in the eye when you’re talking to them.

Cam: Yeah, I think this is going to transition very well into our conversation on Friday about the face and face value. So, I mean, I feel like it’s always related to hard power versus soft power. You know, it’s a soft power environment and you really gotta be careful when you’re handling the situations, right. So that will be fun. Saving face. Perception is reality.

Granger: Okay. Well, I will see you on Friday and we’ll talk about saving face and I’m going to do a little research on that too.

Cam: Okay. Save that face.

Granger: Everybody thanks for joining us today. Have a wonderful Monday, have a great week, and we’ll talk to you Friday.

Cam: Yup, see you all.

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