If you are coming to South Korea for business it is a good idea to familiarize yourself with some of the general culture and the essential South Korea business etiquette to make a good first impression, as the saying goes: “firsts impressions last forever”; because it can determine whether you will close the deal or not.
South Koreans as the land of good etiquette follow a strict protocol when greeting. Don’t wave your hand when you have just met someone in a business environment.
South Korean greet by bowing. Legs together, hands straight down on the sides.
Don’t let your hands hang and don’t keep eye contact when greeting someone.
Another variation for bowing is with both hands clasped in front of your stomach.
30° ~ 45 °
When meeting someone close to you, or someone that is your same age. It is also acceptable when running into someone several times a day.
The standard bow, from someone new, your friends, your boss, or an elderly person, you can’t go wrong when greeting someone like this.
Sometimes, the person with higher status (or age) will initiate a handshake, without lifting yourself take it with both hands. This is a perfect blend from Asian and Western culture greetings.
(Korean women will rarely offer a handshake to a Western man, usually they just offer a standard bow)
TIPS TO REMEMBER!
Wait to be introduced by a third party in a social gathering.
Don’t pat or touch someone in the shoulder if it’s the first time you have met them (especially if they’re older than you); it will be perceived as rude.
Don’t bow in silence, if you initiated the bow, say Hello! (안녕하세요! – an-nyeong-ha-se-yo!) or Nice to meet you! (반갑습니다! – ban-gab-seub-ni-da!)
Don’t bow too fast nor too slow, try to find an appropriate speed.
Don’t be over enthusiastic when giving a handshake, don’t squeeze too hard nor shake for too long.
“Foreign business people don’t need to get hung up on when and how to bow, South Koreans don’t expect foreigners to bow, however, they will appreciate it as a demonstration of knowledge and respect for their culture”
– Lafayette de Mente
Giving a business card
Don’t give a business card between your fingers and with one hand.
Do provide a business card with both hands, and with the face up so it’s easier to read.
TIPS TO REMEMBER!
Use a business card case, this shows you are organized.
Don’t keep your business cards in your wallet.
Never hand out a ripped, torn or dirty business card.
Make sure to provide a translated version of your business card.
TIPS TO REMEMBER!
Do take a business card with both hands and take a moment to examine it and comment on it before putting it away in a case.
Don’t just take a business card and stuck it away in one of your pockets as soon as you receive it, this is considered very rude.
Never write on someone else’s card.
Never place the card in your trousers’ back pocket and sit on it.
After examining the card place the card back in your case and put the case back in your jacket’s left side coat pocket. If you are not wearing a jacket keep the card in your right hand for the entire meeting. If you are seated, then place the card in front of you (not face down).
Names and Titles
Make sure your business card has your full name and your title and position is clear.
Whether you were introduced by a third party or you had a self-introductory meeting with your Korean business partner prospect, it’s important for you to pay attention at his/her job title and his/her family name.
Calling someone by his/her first name is considered rude in South Korea, so you should call them by their last name + their job title. If there is no title just stick with Mr./Ms./Mrs/etc + Last name.
*However, you shouldn’t call someone with high rank in this manner.
Appointments & Punctuality
South Koreans value punctuality a lot, so always make sure you are on time for any business meetings, if you are running late, whatever the reason, call ahead to let the other party know.
However, it should be pointed out that while even if you are on time, your Korean counterpart may not, because of their tight schedule or pressing on-going duties.
Meetings in South Korea are generally held between 10:00AM and 12:00PM or between 2:00PM and 4:00PM.
If you or one of your colleagues end up being late, don’t interrupt the meeting by trying to greet everyone. You (or your colleague) are already late, you should try to be inconspicuous in your situation.
South Korean business dress code is traditionally conservative, with a dark color palette, men wear a black suit with a white shirt and a discrete colored tie. Women wear conservative skirts and white blouse. So don’t dress to show how good you look in bright colors, dress to impress the people you will be making business with.
Topics to avoid
Welcome to talk about
Korean politics/local politics
The Korean War
Personal family matters
South Korea’s culture
South Korea’s economic success
South Korea’s international accomplishments
Sports [especially the Olympics]
The health of the other’s family [ex. ‘Is your family well?’]
South Korea is a proud nation and they value their history very much, so make sure not to confuse or compare them to other asian countries.
Extras worth noting
Don’t over compliment someone, it will be perceived as being sarcastic.
Don’t point with your fingers. (it’s considered rude)
Don’t accept a compliment directly, be modest about it.
Don’t make direct eye contact for long periods of time when having a conversation.
Do remember common courtesy and manners.
When in doubt, ask.
Remember that doing business with South Koreans is a long term process, don’t expect to seal the deal on the first meeting, as their main purpose is to get to know your future business partner prospect.