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Working Effectively in Hong Kong: Overcoming Cultural Differences

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Working Effectively in Hong Kong: Overcoming Cultural Differences

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Hong Kong is the bridge between China and the West. Many companies looking to expand into Asia and concerned about intellectual property protection and financing will start their venture in Hong Kong.

Although the vast majority of its people are Chinese, their mentality is completely different to that of the mainland Chinese. Inspiration comes from the Pacific Rim countries, not from Beijing. Mainland China is a foreign country to most Hong Kongers. It is important to understand that doing business in Hong Kong is not the same as China; the people are more adaptable, dynamic, independent, entrepreneurial and commercially-minded.

There are many important cultural differences in business approaches and etiquette rules which should be respected.

Although businesspeople in Hong Kong do not automatically require long-standing personal relationships to do business, many businesses are family- owned, so personal relationships are an integral part of the enterprise. Trying to impose Western standards on a Chinese team will not work, as the expectations of Chinese team members are generally completely different from those in the west. Strong leadership is essential, as are the right characteristics, seniority being one.

Here are some key tips to help you work effectively in Hong Kong:

  1. Never assume that Hong Kong Chinese share characteristics with those from the mainland. They do, but are inherently different - more open to risk-taking, more entrepreneurial, and more Western in their business practice.
  2. The pace of business can be very fast. Hong Kong Chinese are quick to assure you that they can take care of things. Values like risk-taking and efficiency are important.
  3. The Hong Kong Chinese are used to living and working in a cosmopolitan environment so are used to dealing with foreigners.
  4. From the influence of Confucianism, the Hong Kong Chinese pay respect to hierarchy and the older generation.
  5. Understand the concept of 'face'. Face can be earned, given and taken away. Saving face is critical to the Chinese, from Hong Kong as well as the mainland.
  6. Being punctual for appointments and smartly dressed is a sign of respect; time is money in Hong Kong.
  7. Hong Kong Chinese value the soft sell and the hard buy, and are tough negotiators, employing many tactics to drive a good bargain.

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