Business Etiquette in Hong Kong
Although our world is getting more connected by the hour, mostly thanks to the internet and the rising popularity of the English language, different regions sometimes show great variations in regard to the local culture. Now, to tourists, these differences are slight inconveniences or even curiosities but for a businessman, one wrong step can become a true nightmare. This is why those who want to start an offshore office need to learn a thing or two about the business etiquette of their target destination. With this in mind, let’s discuss Hong Kong as one of the world’s largest and most popular business hubs.
Exchanging the business card
First off, it is customary to start a formal introduction with a handshake, which should be followed with the exchange of the business cards. This part is not uncommon in the rest of the world either, however, this is where the subtle differences begin. For instance, you should accept the business card with both of your hands. Additionally, it is a good practice to have these business cards printed in both Chinese and English. Finally, as soon as you receive them, you should closely examine them (or at least pretend to) before placing them in your pocket. Failing to make this show if immediate interest is usually considered to be quite rude.
Following conservative dress code
While a person walking through the Silicon Valley probably couldn’t tell an entry-level employee and a CEO apart by their clothing, in Hong Kong, business culture is quite different. Black suits, shirts and ties are considered industry-standard and formal attire is acceptable even during something as semi-casual as a business dinner. When thinking about the choice of color, going with a dark hue is always the safest option. Furthermore, in the local culture, red is a lucky color while white is worn by someone in mourning. These two are particularly important when considering clothing choices.
Scheduling a meeting
The next thing you need to keep in mind is the fact that Hong Kong is an intersection between two cultures, which is something you need to take into consideration when scheduling a meeting. Scheduling a meeting during Christmas or a Chinese New Year is a serious faux pas. Both of these periods are quite popular for holidays, which means that, apart from being a sign of bad etiquette, people you are looking for might not even be at the office during this time.
Preparing for the meeting
Once you walk into the meeting, you need to have a game plan, which means that a proper preparation is in order. While in the Western culture it is completely fine to greet people you are meeting in random order, in Hong Kong, you are expected to do so hierarchically. As for the language, feel free to use English. Sure, learning a bit of Cantonese is a great show of respect but it could wind up being counterproductive, if your language skills are not good enough for the situation. This is also one of the main reasons why present-day businessmen more commonly rely on digital tools like 2 Easy to establish these B2B connections, rather than negotiate with their international partners in person.
Knowing how to address your partners
The final thing you need to keep in mind is that you can never go wrong with an official title. No one is going to be offended by being addressed as chairman, professor or president. Same goes for the good old combination of the title Mr, Mrs or Miss plus the last name of the person in question. Of course, there is always an option for you to ask your counterpart how they would like to be addressed, while the above-listed are still, by far, the safest option.
At the end of the day, business etiquette in Hong Kong is quite similar to the one in the Western hemisphere. In fact, a lot of businessmen even go as far as to claim that, nowadays, there is more traditional Western business world in Hong Kong than in the west. Nonetheless, there are more than a few subtle differences that can make or break your negotiation attempts, which is why it is always a good idea to go in well-prepared.