Four Insights into Hong Kong’s Business Culture

Sue Durio, Worldwide ERC® - Jan 10 2019
Published in: Ask the Experts

The recent box office hit and best-selling novel Crazy Rich Asians might be the closest insight some Western business people have to what doing business in Asia may be like. But if your company is looking to establish a Hong Kong headquarters this year, don’t rely on Hollywood to prepare your mobile employees. Here are four things your remote assignees need to know about Hong Kong’s business culture nuances.

Cosmopolitan Meets Traditional. Often dubbed the Wall Street of Asia, Hong Kong is a fascinating mix of cosmopolitan sophistication coupled with centuries-old traditions. “This cosmopolitan island creates a fascinating cultural fusion, blending the Asian heritage of Buddhist temples and ancient Walled Village with Western innovation,” says Sharon Schweitzer, J.D., founder of Protocol & Etiquette Worldwide. Behind the fast pace and cosmopolitan beauty is a deeply held respect for hierarchy rooted in Confucianism. “Confucianism is a system of behaviours and ethics that stress the obligations of people towards one another based upon their relationship,” according to Commisceo Global’s Hong Kong Guide. “Confucianism stresses duty, loyalty, honour, filial piety, respect for age and seniority, and sincerity.  These traits are demonstrated by the Hong Kong Chinese in their respect for hierarchical relationships.”

Relationships Matter. While family is important, and many Hong Kong businesses are family owned, a family connection is not a must-have to do business here. What is necessary is a commitment to invest time in building a personal and business relationship that will be longstanding. “The Hong Kong Chinese take a long-term view of business relationships,” the guide notes. “Once you have begun to work with a Hong Kong businessperson, it is important to maintain the relationship.”

Be patient as you build relationships. Make appointments in advance and confirm them. Come well prepared, but don’t be surprised if discussions and decisions take a while. Expect small talk and lots of questions, sometimes even personal ones. Don’t get agitated or show impatience; give your colleagues time to think things through.  Don’t feel compelled to fill silence with words.

Effective Communication. For the 7 million plus residents of Hong Kong, 95 percent of whom are Chinese, Cantonese is the most common dialect spoken. But in business circles, English is typically spoken. “English is the language of the business and service industries; hotel employees, many urban Hong Kong residents, most young people and shop and service personnel understand and speak it to some degree,” notes the Commisceo Global guide.

That said, accepted business courtesy is to print business cards with Cantonese on one side and English on the other. And here, appearances – even of business cards – matter. Be sure yours are in good condition, clean of handwriting, and even consider using a gold ink on the Cantonese side. Even though English is commonly used, trying your hand at learning some Cantonese phrases will be much appreciated by your Hong Kong associates.

Understand the (Dress) Code. When it comes to business attire, opt for conservative and polished. Don’t overlook the implications of colors, which in Hong Kong carry different connotations. “Chinese culture associates dark tones like black and navy, with professionalism. As a symbol of luck, add a red tie or crimson blouse. Avoid white clothing, which symbolizes mourning,” writes Schweitzer.  

Want to learn more about doing business in Hong Kong?

Join us on 17 January 2019 at the New World Millennium Hong Kong Hotel for Worldwide ERC’s Hong Kong Summit. Learn more and register now.