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Hong Kong Business Culture
There are a few things you need to know about Hong Kong business culture, concerning general behavior, dress code, and etiquette. It may come as a surprise to non-Asian expats when they realize how different Hong Kong business culture is from back home.
Although business in Hong Kong can be frantic and many people are hard-working and career-oriented, business culture in Hong Kong takes some patience. Decisions are not made on a whim. In Hong Kong business culture, impatience and aggressiveness are often perceived as negative character traits. So don’t put too much pressure on your business partners!
Small details such as colors or body language also play a role in Hong Kong business culture. Generally speaking, it is important to remain calm and polite, but also committed to doing business.
Hong Kong Business Culture: Greetings and General Etiquette
Greet your business contacts with a handshake and a slight bow. Remember to respect the hierarchy that influences Hong Kong business culture. When you are introduced to a group of people, greet the most senior member first. Keep in mind that business can only be successful if you treat your partners with courtesy.
Make sure to always address people with their title and surname (e.g. Doctor Yeoh). You will soon realize that a plenty of businesspeople in Hong Kong use a Western name to make it easier for their Western contacts to address them correctly. In Hong Kong business culture, physical contact is rare, and interactions are rather formal. Therefore you should try to avoid physical contact beyond the usual handshake.
Hong Kong Business Culture: Dress Code
In Hong Kong, businesspeople dress fairly conservatively, usually in black suits, shirts, and ties. You should try to stick to your formal attire, even during business dinners. Dark, muted colors are usually the best choice for your clothing.
Remember that, in Hong Kong business culture, colors can have different meanings. Red is considered a lucky color while white is a traditional symbol of mourning. Pay close attention to these meanings when choosing a color scheme for the day. Wearing a red tie, a red blouse, or another red piece of clothing might have a positive effect. If you want to accessorize, a fancy watch or an elegant necklace also help you dress to impress.
Hong Kong Business Culture: Meetings and Negotiations
If you want to arrange a meeting with business contacts in Hong Kong, it is always a good idea to make appointments well in advance. Try to avoid scheduling meetings on Christmas, Easter, or around the Chinese New Year, which are all popular times for vacation in Hong Kong business culture. Don’t forget to call or email your business partners the day before to confirm your appointment.
During the meeting, greet the most senior business partner first and then work your way down the hierarchy. Hand out your business cards. Here you should make sure, just like with your wardrobe, to stick to a positive or neutral color scheme. One side of your business card should be printed in Chinese, the other one in English.
In Hong Kong business culture, it’s key to be well-prepared for the meeting and to support everything you present with some facts and figures. It is just as important to be diplomatic in your choice of words, though.
“Yes” may not necessarily mean “yes”, just “I hear you” or “I understand what you are saying”, and a refusal or disagreement is mostly not phrased as a blunt “no”. Do not say “no” directly, but try to find a different phrasing. Always remain calm, patient, and modest during negotiations. In Hong Kong business culture, negotiations take a while as everything is discussed in detail and considered thoroughly. Don’t pressure your business partners, but give them time to think things through.
Although English is commonly used in Hong Kong business culture, you should try to be respectful of your Chinese business partners. Speak slowly and clearly, and practice or try to learn Cantonese in Hong Kong if you can. If your Cantonese is not quite up to Hong Kong business culture, you may at least try a bit of small talk or a few polite phrases to show your effort.
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