I don’t know about you, but I am still organizing my InfoComm notes. I come back from the show with many ideas for the business, several new goals for myself, and, of course, a tall stack of business cards of new friends and partners. I typically come back with a stack of business cards wrapped in a rubber band that was haphazardly thrown into my carry-on bag. After speaking with a friend from Hong Kong, my whole relationship with business cards changed.
When I first met this friend, he took out a beautiful business card case, selected a crisp, fresh card and presented the card with both hands and a slight bow. I, on the other hand, grabbed his card with one hand while I was reaching for my wallet with the other, gave it a glance, threw it in my pocket and fished through my wallet for a dog-eared business card that had an older business address on it. As I offered it to him (well, pretty much threw it at him like a poker dealer), he politely smiled, and we started chatting. After a while, the differences between Asian and American culture came up. He had been staying in Hong Kong for several years, and he was still getting used to working with Americans again. This is where he schooled me on business card etiquette.
Asians see business cards as an extension of themselves, not just a convenient way to remember an email address. In Asian culture, it is very important to keep business cards pristine, much like people treat their reputations. They are also always offered and accepted with both hands as a sign of respect. As in, “I would like to present this token/extension of myself to you, and I will gladly accept and appreciate yours in return.” Then, a few seconds is spent to study and digest the information on the card. Not just name and email, but locality, title, certifications, etc. Perhaps a comment is made about something noticed on the card as another sign of respect. I was blown away.
There is a lot more to it. If you are doing business with an Asian associate, I urge you to get more information on whose card is presented on top during an exchange, and how deep you should bow. Also, never write on the face of a business card or throw it back in a wallet and sit on it while they are in front of you. The owner might be as offended as if you did the same to their actual face, as in, scribble a note on their forehead or start an impromptu/unwanted game of chicken on their shoulders. (At least get to know the person first….)
However, that simple idea of offering and accepting business cards with respect and courtesy really stayed with me. In this technologically advancing world where the pace quickens exponentially and personal interactions are evaporating, it makes such an impact when you connect with a new business colleague in this simple exchange. If I’m being honest, I still wrap the collected business cards up in a rubber band after they are put into my digital contacts with copious notes. However, my poker-dealer-business-card-slinging-around-the-table days are over. Each business card is offered and accepted with two hands, and, at this point, an unconscious bow…just in case.