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Business Etiquette in Hong Kong

When dealing with differences in culture during international negotiations, etiquette is an important strategy/tactic to consider. Etiquette coach, Bernice Lee, joined me on the podcast a few months ago to discuss etiquette, largely dealing with the culture in China and Hong Kong. She had so much valuable knowledge to share that I invited her back for a second round. 

In the latest episode with Bernice, we talked in more detail about body language, and how to give off the right message and interpret what you’re getting back, mostly in dealing with Chinese culture in a business setting.

When building a relationship, gifts are not required, but always a nice gesture in Chinese culture. Pay attention to Chinese holidays; acknowledging those special days is a good way to show goodwill and maintain your business relationships. Be aware that in Chinese culture, gifts should be reciprocated, so they will expect to send you a gift of equal value, which should be considered when deciding on a budget.

In North America, we are blessed with personal space. This is something we take for granted and is uncommon in other countries, especially China and Hong Kong. Chinese people are much more accustomed to being in close quarters than Westerners, so when in China and you find yourself without personal space, is it ethical to ask someone to give you some room? Bernice approached this question by saying we should accommodate the culture we are in. 

Introductions and first impressions are important in every culture, but for the Chinese subtilty is key. Smile, but keep your smile understated. A big smile could indicate you are making fun of the other person, mocking them, or not being genuine. Smile appropriately for the fact that you don’t know this person but are pleased to make their acquaintance. Shake hands along the same lines: lightly and without emphasis. Shake a hand too firmly and you might come off as aggressive. However, you may experience a two-hand shake if your Chinese host wants to show their hospitality.

Expect subtle communications, as well. Chinese businesspeople are unlikely to have outbursts of opinion or show emotions. They likely won’t even say no to your face, and if you hear a yes, don’t take it at face value. They could be saying “yes” or “OK” to affirm their understanding, not necessarily agreeing with you or your proposition. 

When negotiating with people from cultures outside of North America, it’s imperative to understand the differences that may affect your relationship and your desired outcome. Simply knowing about the cultural differences and showing your understanding will take you a long way. 

Find my full conversation with Bernice Lee by subscribing to the Negotiations Ninja podcast.