Hong Kong Communication Styles

Despite the length of the British colonial presence in Hong Kong, it is not safe to presuppose that English is universally spoken.

Of course, amongst the staff of the larger corporations, the bulk of employees will have a very high level of fluency in English (as well as quite often another language.) However, amongst the employees of smaller firms, the foreign language levels can drop quite rapidly. Be prepared for some communication difficulties and do not assume that what you have said has been fully understood. Check for comprehension by asking lots of open questions and then go over points if you feel that there might be an area of confusion.

The Hong Kong Chinese can be much more direct than many other Asians – possibly as the result of centuries of Western influence – and that directness can come as a shock to those more used to dealing with countries such as Japan or Taiwan. This directness is most likely to be used at peer level discussions and it would be unusual for lower ranking employees to be overtly direct with more senior colleagues or visitors. Indeed, as has already been said, it can be difficult for more junior people to deliver bad news up the chain, which can result in all kinds of problems later in the proceedings.

It is important to show an interest in issues outside the business domain, so questions about family and health are good icebreakers. Issues around the current internal political situation in Hong Kong are probably best avoided until a very strong bond has been developed.

A brief overview of some key concepts to consider when doing business in Hong Kong

Written and Produced by Keith Warburton

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Overview

Hong Kong is seen by many people as the gateway to mainland China – a stepping stone to the riches promised by the potential of the People’s Republic. Combine this view with Hong Kong’s inherent historical strength as an international trading hotspot and you can start to understand why Hong Kong punches well above its weight.

Hong Kong is a bustling cosmopolitan city state where East meets West and expats from all over the world mingle with locals and visitors from mainland China. Hong Kong island is home to the regional headquarters of hundreds of global companies who see Hong Kong’s unique geographical and economic position as an ideal hub from which to control their Asian operations.

Any company looking at expanding its Asia footprint is likely to find itself evaluating the benefits of starting a permanent establishment in the territory but Hong Kong should be seen as more than just a hub destination – Hong Kong also represents an attractive market in itself. With an affluent, well-educated population of savvy consumers you should also consider doing business in Hong Kong as an opportunity to sell your products and services.

However, this dynamic bustling market presents certain challenges for business people who are looking to do business in the country and top of these challenges is gaining an understanding of the complex local business culture. Are you dealing with a local Hong Kong partner, a Western expat or someone from the People’s Republic of China? If you are dealing with a local Hong Kong contact were they educated in Hong Kong or abroad – (this might affect the way they do business)? It is definitely worth taking some time out to explore some of the key business culture issues you might encounter on the island.

This country profile provides an overview of some of the key aspects of Hong Kong business culture in a concise, easy to follow-format. The document includes information on:

  • Background to business
  • Business Structures
  • Management style
  • Meetings
  • Teamwork
  • Communication
  • Women in business
  • Entertaining
  • Top tips