Working across cultures. Vietnam and Germany

Seminar Paper 2015 20 Pages

Communications - Intercultural Communication


Table of Contents

List of figures

1 Introduction

2 Vietnamese and German business cultures – a short overview –

3 The critical incident

4 Hofstedte
4.1 Power Distance
4.2 Uncertainty Avoidance
4.3 Individualism vs. collectivism
4.4 Long term vs. short term
4.5 Masculinity vs Feminity

5 Hall’s cultural Frameworks
5.1 High- and low- context communication
5.2 Monochronic and Polychronic behavior

6 Richard R. Gesteland’s Cross- Cultural Patterns
6.1 Deal- Focus vs. Relationship- Focus

7 Trompenaars cultural dimensions
7.1 Individualism versus communitarianism
7.2 Universalism vs. Particularism

8 Conclusion

List of references:

List of figures

Figure 1: The Iceberg Model

Figure 2: Hofstedte's cultural dimensions

Figure 3 Trompenaars cultural dimensions: Universalism versus Particularism

1 Introduction

For the critical incident “Doing business together”, a case was created, in which two students from Germany and Vietnam want to manage a start-up successfully together. Both have different perceptions regarding communication and organization. These distinctions lead to big misunderstandings and in one situation with the Vietnamese investor it even puts the success and future plans of the company at risk.

It is not surprising that misunderstandings and disagreements may occur, when people from Asian cultures and western European cultures want to do business together. The behavior in business and every-day life significantly differs. If we take a closer look at all cultural dimension, especially at Hofstede’s and Hall’s models, we can identify possible reasons and solutions how to overcome the (sometimes frustrating) cultural differences in global business.

In the following chapters, we will give an overview about the most important cultural dimensions we have learnt in the course, analyze the problems in the case with the help of the cultural dimensions and think about possible strategies how to avoid or solve the cultural misunderstandings.

2 Vietnamese and German business cultures – a short overview –

Vietnam was chosen as a country for our critical incident because of differences in the most famous and important cultural models and the increasing importance of Vietnam as a business partner for European markets regarding international trade and investment.

Vietnamese people tend to be hierarchical, emotionally reserved in face- to- face meetings and polychronic in time behavior. In addition to that they are strongly relationship- oriented and low- context in communication.[1]

Gesteland describes the German business culture as deal oriented, moderately formal and monochronic in time behavior. Germans tend to be emotionally reserved.[2]

With a view of Hofstede’s models we can see that Germany significantly differs from Vietnam in all of his dimensions (Figure 1)

But culture in general cannot be explained only with these different approaches. We should also focus on the behavior of individuals in different situations. According to Halls Iceberg Model of Culture, visible and invisible elements are important to understand different cultures. (Figure 1)

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Figure 2; The Iceberg Model

No visible element makes sense, if somebody does not understand the drivers behind it, the invisible elements. Visible elements are all elements of a culture that can be observed, such as the way of life, laws and customs and rituals, the invisible elements are not so obvious, for example attitudes, values and different beliefs.[3]

Invisible elements, like attitudes, the way of communication and expectations play an important role in the interaction between the Vietnamese and the German culture. We can also see in critical incident number one and two that problems arise, if somebody does not understand or ignores the importance of the invisible elements. Especially in the conversation with Tina invisible elements, such as values, norms and attitudes play an important role.

3 The critical incident

What exactly is a critical incident? Whenever people of different cultures interact with one another, it is not unusual that misunderstandings or conflicts sometimes arise because of their behavior due to their limited knowledge about the other’s culture, which can result in hurting one another unintentionally. Such a predicament in which people or businesses can find themselves is called a critical incident.[4]

In this chapter we are going to Analysis our critical incident Analysis with a few of the suitable theories of Hofstede, Hall, Gesteland and Trompenaars.

4 Hofstedte

His most notable work has been in developing the cultural dimensions theory. The five dimensions are Power Distance, Individualism, Uncertainty avoidance, Masculinity, and Longterm Orientation.

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Figure 2 Hofstede’s cultural dimensions

In this term paper, we will only take a closer look at the dimensions that show the most differences between the cultures of Germany and Vietnam for a better understanding of the cultural troubles.

4.1 Power Distance

Power distance is the third dimension, which reflects the hierarchy and structure of the society and organizations. If the culture views power as a given attribute, then this culture is highly power accepting. Power distance also means the willingness of the society to accept unequal power distribution among the members of the society. If the score is high, then the elders are respected for their wisdom.[5]

Situation: Sue has already finished her bachelor’s degree and is older than John who is doing his Bachelor’s degree right now. He sees himself and Sue as equals and in general as someone who is at the same level as him. He talks very directly and has a clear vision of how things should work and who should be giving the responsibility in certain situations. In those situations Sue is perceiving John’s behavior as very rude and it seems like he is not showing any respect to her, though he does it without knowing it.

Analysis: In this dimension Vietnam scores 70 points. That means Vietnamese accept hierarchy. Everybody has a place in the hierarchy order that needs no other justification. Because of the acceptance a less powerful member has to show respect and politeness in front of someone who is more powerful. Furthermore, age could also be a factor to show power.

On the contrary, Germany is among the lower power distant countries with a score of 35. The participation of decision- making is very important in a German firm. A direct and participative communication and meeting style is common, control is disliked and leadership is challenged to show expertise and best accepted when it is based on it.[6]

In this case Sue has already finished her Bachelor’s degree, unlike John. That means that Sue is more powerful than John, ergo John has to show more respect towards Sue. He should not talk directly and pay more attention to how he behaves in front of her. But for John everybody is equal because Sue is a student and he is also one. He does not distinguish between the degree neither the age.

4.2 Uncertainty Avoidance

The Uncertainty Avoidance dimension expresses the degree to which the members of a society feel uncomfortable with uncertainty and ambiguity.[7] It shows how they deal with the control of the future, for example if they have planned their future in detail or if they just live in the moment and just let life take its course naturally.[8]

Situation:Sue and John get their tasks and decide that their deadline will be in two months. John starts with the work the day after their meeting and elaborates everything precisely.Sue is just doing her tasks when she thinks it is really necessary. Finally she starts her work only because John gets really nervous and when he asks her again and again how far she is with her thesis. John puts great value into punctuality and precise working.

Analysis: Germany scored 65 so it is a country which avoids uncertainty. This is also reflected by the law system. Details are equally important to be certain about the progress of a project and how well-thought-out it should be. In combination with their low Power Distance, Germans prefer to compensate for their higher uncertainty by strongly relying on expertise instead of basing their decisions on the larger responsibility of their bosses.

Vietnam scores 30 on this dimension, this means Vietnamese have a lower preference for avoiding uncertainty. Vietnamese have in general a more relaxed attitude and practice counts more than principles. They also believe that there should be no more rules than necessary and time is considered to be a framework and guideline but nothing more.[9]

In general Germans are very disciplined when it comes to deadlines. So is John, He expects his work to be precise and has good work ethics. He is really responsible and takes his tasks very seriously, while Sue is more relaxed about working hours and deadlines. She completes tasks when she it is time to do them but not before and only places extra effort when it is seen as necessary. Sue has to change her way of working if she wants to work successfully with Germans during her stay.


[1] Cf. Gesteland (2012), p. 157

[2] Cf. Gesteland (2012), p. 311

[3] Cf. Rothlauf (2014), pp. 26-27

[4] https://kulturfondue.wordpress.com/2010/07/09/critical-incidents/(seen 29.06.2015)

[5] Kiesel,Ulsamer (2000), p. 33

[6] http://geert-hofstede.com/countries.html (seen 29.06.2015)

[7] Hofstede (2010)

[8] Cf. Varner, Beamer (2010), p. 115

[9] Hofstede 2010


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Title: Working across cultures. Vietnam and Germany