Hong Kong is located on China’s southern coast and covers an area of 1,104 square kilometers, which is almost twice the size of St. Lucia and a quarter of the size of the U.S. state of Rhode Island. Formerly a British colony, it has been the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) of China since 1997.
Hong Kong includes the New Territories, the Kowloon Peninsula, Hong Kong Island, Lantau Island, and more than 200 smaller islands. Victoria Harbor, the deep natural harbor on the Kowloon Peninsula, has allowed the region to become an important center for global commerce over many hundreds of years.
Although Hong Kong has been part of China since 1997, it is important not to assume Hong Kong citizens are the same as Mainland Chinese. Recent tensions between the Hong Kong government and pro-democracy protesters have highlighted concerns among those in Hong Kong, many of whom still see themselves as culturally closer to the West. Recent moves by the Chinese government to assert more control over Hong Kong threaten the city’s competitiveness as an international business hub.
THE CONCEPT OF FACE
Nevertheless, Hong Kong culture remains influenced by a century of British rule and 5,000 years of Chinese tradition, creating a culture that blends elements of East and West.
In Hong Kong culture, time is money and efficiency is highly valued. Hong Kongers are savvy businesspeople, price conscious, and good negotiators. However, this directness in business dealings is tempered by Chinese traits in personal style. Hong Kongers typically will shy away from criticism and controversy by using more diplomatic terms such as “perhaps” and “maybe” to show their concern or disagreement (“Perhaps if we follow this course of action, there may be some problems?”).
By suggesting an alternative, rather than directly criticizing the person, Hong Kongers seek to avoid causing a loss of “face.” For anyone leading training programs in Hong Kong, this concept of “face” is perhaps the most important cultural signifier to heed. The overriding objective of “face” is to avoid embarrassment or making another person feel uncomfortable. There are three elements to the concept of “face”:
Losing face. Causing someone “to lose face” could include contradicting them, saying “no” directly to them, insulting them, or referring to them incorrectly. All of these could hurt the individual emotionally or cause him or her to feel embarrassment or shame.
Giving face. This means to give compliments, particularly in front of people of greater status. Compliments are taken very seriously in Asia.
Saving face. Finally, one also can save another person’s “face” by taking the blame (“Oh, I must not have explained the process correctly—that’s why it did not turn out they way we expected”) or by finding blame in external factors.
In addition to respecting the unwritten rules regarding “face,” the following training tips can help:
Show and command respect. Schedule programs well in advance and always be punctual. Greet each person present when you enter a room, starting with the most senior person in attendance.
This sense of hierarchy carries over to the learning environment. The teacher rules the class, knows all the answers, and spoon-feeds knowledge to the students. So when delivering a training program in Hong Kong, it is important to formally establish your own credentials to ensure you command respect for your knowledge and experience.
Engage participation. In school, students only speak when spoken to in Hong Kong. So it’s no surprise that Hong Kongers often are quiet during training sessions, even when proactively asked for their contribution. Trainers must create a comfortable learning atmosphere to engage delegates and allow them to actively participate in the program.
Focus on efficiency and application. In general, Hong Kongers are goal oriented, focusing only on the parts of any process that are important in achieving the goal quickly and efficiently. When delivering business training in Hong Kong, provide the theoretical concept briefly, followed by plenty of practical application and examples.
Maya Hu-Chan, a senior associate with Global Dynamics Inc. and the founder of Global Leadership Associates, is a specialist in global leadership, executive coaching, and cross-cultural business skills. Hu-Chan was named one of the Top 8 Global Solutions Thinkers by Thinkers50 and World Top 30 Leadership Gurus. She is the author of “Global Leadership: The Next Generation.” Hu-Chan has trained and coached thousands of leaders in global Fortune 500 companies and public sectors throughout the Americas, Asia, and Europe. She can be reached at Programs@globaldynamics.com.