Dim Sum Dialogues : Getting down to business

Let’s face it – if you’re an aspiring businessperson or entrepreneur, there’s an excellent chance that you’ll be doing business in China within the next decade. Whether it’s manufacturing, finance, or trading – China has the second largest economy in the world and isn’t showing any signs of slowing down.

One of the best things about Hong Kong is the speed with which people network. A night out at the hot spots on Wyndham Street could yield a small collection of new business cards – so make sure that you bring plenty of your own. Business cards are usually handed out rapidly and immediately in social situations, and if you’re really serious about making connections here, make sure your cards have English on one side and traditional Chinese (for Hong Kong) or simplified Chinese (for the mainland) on the other side.

A few weeks after I arrived, I became friends with another American that came to Hong Kong to import fresh, wholesome (and melamine free) milk directly from the United States. As a part of his training, he received a document outlining how business with Chinese partners should be conducted, so I took the opportunity to outline the highlights for your reading pleasure here. I can’t verify the absolute truth of these statements or stand by them, so please, take it with a grain of salt.

  • Present your business card with two hands, and ensure that the Chinese side is facing the recipient. Never write on a business card or put it in your wallet or pocket. Carry a small card case.
  • When receiving a business card, make a show of examining it carefully for a few moments, then carefully place it in your cards case or on the table, if you are seated. Not reading a business card that has been presented to you then stuffing it directly into your back pocket will be a breach of protocol.
  • If your company is the oldest or largest in your country, or has another prestigious distinction, ensure that this is stated on your card. It’s an asset to have your business cards printed in gold ink. In Chinese business culture, gold is the color of prestige, prosperity
  • Do not use large hand movements. Chinese people do not speak with their hands. Your movements may be distracting to your host. Do not point when speaking. If one must point do not use your index finger, use an open palm. It is considered improper to put your hand in your mouth. Avoid acts that involve the mouth.
  • Personal contact must be avoided at all cost. It is also highly inappropriate for a man to touch a woman in public.
  • Chinese people don’t like doing business with companies they don’t know, so working through an intermediary is crucial. This could be an individual or an organization that can make a formal introduction and vouch for the reliability of your company.
  • Bowing or nodding is the common greeting; however, you may be offered a handshake. Wait for the Chinese to offer their hand first. Handshakes are typically limp and brief.
  • Greetings are formal and the oldest person is always greeted first.
  • The most important member of your company or group should lead important meetings. Chinese value rank and status. Introductions are formal. Use formal titles.
  • It is considered disrespectful to stare into another person’s eyes.
  • Under no circumstances should you lose your temper or you will lose face and irrevocably damage your relationship.
  • The decision making process is slow. You should not expect to conclude your business swiftly. Negative replies are considered impolite. Instead of saying ‘no’, answer ‘maybe’. ‘I’ll think about it’ or ‘We’ll see’ and get into specifics later. You’ll find that many Chinese partners will do the same.
  • So there you have it. May these tips bring you good health & good fortune…and keep an eye out this week for more on Hong Kong weddings, how to navigate a wet market, and the infamous Chungking Mansions.