Cultural Clues… Do’s & Taboos
A series of cultural tips for countries from A to Z
Communication Guidelines for Hong Kong
Business cards are exchanged with both hands between the thumbs and forefingers. When receiving a business card, make a show of examining it for a few moments; then, carefully place it into your card case or on the table if you are seated at one.
In Hong Kong business culture, a person’s reputation and social standing rests on the concept of “saving face.” Causing embarrassment or loss of composure, even unintentionally, can be disastrous for business negotiations.
Emotional restraint is held in high esteem; when dealing with people, one must maintain harmony within the group and avoid overt conflict. The importance of reserve and tact should never be underestimated.
Age is revered. Respect and deference are directed from the young to the old, and the authority and responsibility from the old to the young.
Hierarchy is very important in Hong Kong business culture, regardless of the size or nature of the company. A clear line of authority is essential in any office, otherwise only confusion and resentment will likely occur.
The Chinese can be exceptionally diplomatic in conversation. They will make an effort to ensure that no potentially insulting or embarrassing statements are made.
Do not offer opinions too freely, and avoid inquiring about an individual’s plans or where he or she is going. The Chinese find the disclosure of excessive amounts of information impolite.
If you speak only English, understand that you may have difficulty interpreting the emotional content of a conversation in Chinese. A simple, mundane Chinese conversation (especially in Cantonese) may sound like a heated argument to a Westerner.
Punctuality is very important in Hong Kong business culture and is seen as a gesture of respect. Make every effort to be on time, even though Hong Kong’s congested streets can make this objective a challenge.
In keeping with Chinese custom, each person is obliged to apologize when necessary. For example, you should apologize profusely if you are late, even if it was not your fault. On the other hand, do not show anger or annoyance if your Hong Kong counterpart arrives late. You immediately put yourself at a disadvantage if you appear to be under a time constraint.
The Chinese will nod or bow slightly as an initial greeting. Handshakes are also popular. Wait, however, for your Chinese counterpart to initiate the gesture.
When bowing to a superior, you should bow more deeply and allow him or her to rise first.
Recognize and greet the most senior or elderly person in a group first, and politely inquire about his or her health.
Do not pat people on the shoulder or initiate any physical contact. It is not appreciated.
The Chinese may communicate in closer proximity than is common in the United States.
Although women may cross their legs, men should keep their feet on the floor. Place your hands in your lap while sitting.
Smiling is not as noticeable among the Chinese, since there is a heavy emphasis on repressing emotion.
Avoid any behavior that seems aggressive or loud; decorum is important in all aspects of life.
Use your whole hand rather than your index finger to point.
Welcome Topics of Conversation
- Casual inquiries about health or business are considered polite conversation.
- Chinese history and architecture is always a good topic.
- Food is very important and they enjoy discussing their delicacies.
- Culture and the Chinese traditions.
- Music and the arts are excellent topics.
Conversation to Avoid
- Anything that could cause loss of face of embarrassment.
- Avoid mentioning the political situation in China.
- Avoid discussing Taiwan.
- Anything negative about their food or dining habits.
- Overly specific or detailed inquiries that may be considered intrusive.
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