Business culture and etiquette

How to do business in Hong Kong

Business culture and etiquette

Hong Kong´s business culture emphasizes personal reputation. Managing your reputation is therefore one of the most important success factors when doing business in Hong Kong.

Take pains to avoid being confronted by co-workers or proven wrong by clients. These conflicts can cause you to lose face in the business world, which could hurt your future business prospects.

Always take care to be respectful of your employees and clients, and make sure to dress in an appropriate fashion. This means suits and ties for men and pant-suits or business skirts for women.

Expect to attend lavish business dinners, as the extravagant dinner or office party is another hallmark of the Hong Kong business world. This is especially true around the time of the Chinese New Year, when you will likely attend a number of functions. Depending on your business and position, you may even be expected to hand out traditional Good Luck Money, which is distributed to employees in red packets as a sign of good fortune for the upcoming year.

Belief in luck and superstitions is a major element of Chinese culture that has translated into the Hong Kong business world. It is not unusual to hear colleagues blame business fortunes or misfortunes on their luck (or lack thereof!) rather than more traditional economic factors. In spite of Hong Kong´s global economy, its business culture is still rooted in the eastern tradition. Keep an open mind toward cultural differences, and if you are unsure of where you stand in a particular social situation or cultural crossroads, look for social cues (especially from a host at an event) to help guide your behaviour.

You should greet your business contacts with a handshake and/or a slight bow. When meeting a group of people, make sure to greet the most senior person first. To make a good impression you should start the conversation with some phrases in Cantonese. Although English is used as the business language it will show your effort and your interest in the foreign culture.

Meetings and negotiations start with smalltalk and involve a lot of discussion, which can mean they last a long time. People don’t like to hurry, so the same point might be discussed several times. Meeting deadlines is not considered as important, but punctuality is.

Negotiations usually take place at a traditional Chinese restaurants where it is common to have up to 12 courses. As a guest you should at least try a bit of each course. However, don’t empty your plate or your glass entirely. This could signal that you are planning to leave soon.

In general, try to keep calm and patient when negotiating and don’t put your business partner under pressure.

Finally, expect to enter a work force in which women often hold senior positions at major companies and banks. Large numbers of women are active and successful in Hong Kong´s business world, as evidenced by the existence of a number of women´s business and professional associations.

Further reading

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