Meeting and Greeting
Although the traditional Chinese way of greeting is the bow, as a foreigner you would not really be expected to do so. A simple handshake would suffice, possibly combined with a slight bow. Strong handshakes are not really the norm and many an American or European has commented on the limpness of the Chinese handshake.
If greeting a group it is important to greet the most senior member first. As a hierarchical society it is important to constantly recognise seniority.
Most people you meet should be addressed with their title and surname. If you do know of a professional title (President, Doctor, Engineer, etc) simply use Mr or Mrs followed by the surname. It is always a good idea to try and find out if a title is used.
You will soon notice that many Hong Kong Chinese who do business with foreigners will use a “western” name that is easier for them to remember and pronounce.
You may see members of the sex holding hands. This signifies friendship but would not be seen between members of the same sex. Women can cross their legs when seated but men should try and keep their feet on the floor. Physical contact is rare so avoid patting people on the back or holding someone’s shoulder.
Gift Giving Etiquette
Gift giving is part and parcel of doing business in Hong Kong. It helps establish and maintain relationships. Gifts are always exchanged between business associates at Christmas and Chinese New Year. A common gift is known as hong boa. This is when a gift of money is given in a red envelope to children and non-governmental staff. New bills are given in even numbers and amounts.
Gifts that are advised to avoid giving are clocks, books, blankets, anything unwrapped or wrapped in blue and green hats. When gifts are received do not open in the presence of the giver. When giving and accepting gifts use both hands. Gifts should be reciprocated.
Entertaining is a critical part of doing business in Hong Kong. Restaurants and banquet halls are usually where one will encounter an eight course meal over which a new alliance is built or a business deal celebrated. In fact, a meal can also be considered a gift so should be reciprocated.
Pay attention to seating etiquette. The guest of honour will always sit opposite the host. The next most important guest will sit to the left of the guest of honour; the third ranking guest sits to the right of the guest of honour.
Chinese tables are usually round and seat twelve people. The guest of honour will sit furthest from the entrance. The host will sit closest the entrance; this is to allow them to better deal with waiting staff.
Meetings and Negotiating
Appointments in Hong Kong should be made well in advance. Times of the year to avoid are around Christmas, Easter and Chinese New Year. Business trips are best scheduled for October, November and March to June. Most offices usually work from 09:00 to 17:00, Monday to Friday.
When meeting with a group of business associates always ensure to greet the most senior member first and then the next senior, working your way down the ranks. Ensure you bring plenty of business cards with you. These should be presented when meeting. It is a good idea to have one side of the business card translated into Chinese. Using red and gold is considered auspicious. Present and accept business cards with two hands and always inspect and comment upon cards.
Make sure you come prepared with materials and presentations as these will be expected. Facts and figures are crucial as supporting evidence but will not be the be all and end all. Remember to always keep calm, patient and modest in all your behaviour. Avoid confrontation or aggression as this will lead to you losing face and causing a loss of face. Use language diplomatically at all times. Similarly try to avoid directly saying no to anyone, try and use alternative expressions such as, “I will see”, “I will try” or “It may be difficult.”
Negotiations can be long, protracted affairs as details are slowly poured over and analysed. This is normal and rather than trying to add pressure see if more details would be useful. Be aware that during negotiations a senior member of the company may attend but simply as a ceremonial attendee. It is usually the lower ranking attendees who will do the negotiations with you so pay most attention to them.
Doing Business in Hong Kong
The above tips on doing business in Hong Kong are but a few examples of some of the areas one needs to look into before travelling to Hong Kong. It is important to bear in mind that these tips are simply meant as a safety net based on generalisation of how business is done in Hong Kong. They in no way are presented as hard and fast rules that are applicable all of the time. People differ from country to country and also within countries, so do not expect all Hong Kong Chinese to act, think or behave in the same way.