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  • Writer's pictureJ&J Korea

Success Strategies: Understanding Business Etiquettes in Korea Workplaces

As South Korea becomes more modern each year, foreigners need to understand that modern doesn't necessarily mean Western. (A Guide to Foreign Direct Investment in Korea)

While you don't need to be an expert on Korean culture, showing interest in their etiquette and practices is highly valued. 

Even basic attempts at speaking Korean are appreciated by Koreans, as it shows respect for their nation and culture. 

In this blog article, we'll discuss South Korea's perspective on business etiquette to help those unfamiliar with cultural differences. 

Whether you're planning to look for a job or do business in South Korea, understanding and respecting their customs can go a long way in building positive relationships and achieving success in your endeavors.


Dress:


Because of the conservative nature of Korean society, appearance matters a lot. Koreans prefer to dress more professionally and conservatively for work, in contrast to Americans and Europeans, where business meetings might be conducted in casual clothing. 


Furthermore, it's typical for staff members to dress simply and with few accessories. Therefore, dress formally in neutral hues with few accessories if you are meeting with Korean partners.


Exchange of Business Cards:


Business Etiquettes in Korea

In South Korea, exchanging business cards is a basic yet important etiquette a foreigner should practice. When exchanging cards, it's customary to do so at the beginning of a meeting, using both hands while standing to show respect. 

These cards are vital for learning about the other person's name, position, and status. Handling them with care is crucial; it's seen as rude to write on them, fold them, or stash them away immediately.

For foreigners meeting Korean partners, it's wise to have plenty of cards on hand, with one side translated into Korean to aid communication. 

This small gesture can make a big difference in building positive relationships.


Dinner Outings:


In South Korea, dinner outing is a big part of doing business. It's a chance to bond and relax together. But there are some important things to know, especially if you're new to the culture.

Firstly, take off your shoes and sit on the floor at traditional meals. Make sure your socks or feet are clean and presentable.

Alcohol is often offered at these dinners. While it's okay to refuse, it's seen as respectful to accept. You don't have to drink it all if you don't want to.

During the meal, follow good table manners. Wait for your seniors to start eating before you do. Be careful not to leave chopsticks sticking out of your rice or point at people with them.

If someone puts food on your plate or pours you a drink, it's polite to accept. Tipping isn't expected.

When pouring drinks, always offer to refill others' glasses before your own. Turn away from senior colleagues when taking a sip as a sign of respect.

Remember, these meals are about more than just business. Don't push only work-related topics. And don't assume you'll split the bill – often, the host pays, but it's best to check beforehand.


Meeting:

Business Etiquettes in Korea

When getting ready for business meetings, wear traditional conservative business clothes in muted colors. 

During conversations:

  • Use the correct titles and show respect to those with higher titles.

  • Make eye contact when meeting someone.

  • Always be honest and act with integrity.

  • Helping others with humility is highly valued. Avoid showing off or being competitive.


In South Korea, introductions by someone both parties know are better than cold ones. Build and maintain relationships over time. 

During the first meeting, focus on getting to know each other and building trust instead of diving straight into business. Always schedule meetings in advance and be punctual, well-dressed, and equipped with business cards.

Seating arrangements matter. Follow cues to avoid accidental insults. If you're the host, ensure you don't unintentionally offend anyone. Leaders should sit across from each other, and when introducing people, prioritize older individuals and then women.


Response Promptness:


In business communication, how quickly you respond says a lot. In South Korea, it's common to reply to messages on the same day. If you don't get a response, it might mean the other person isn't interested. It's important to reply promptly, preferably within a week. 

During conversations, it's polite to wait for your turn to speak. Let others finish before you talk. Don't interrupt or try to talk over them. Also, avoid using rude language, making jokes, or using informal words. And remember, it's considered impolite to point with your fingers. These simple rules can help you communicate effectively and respectfully in Korean business settings.


Giving Gifts:


In Korean business culture, giving gifts is common and holds special significance. Gifts often represent national symbols and are exchanged as gestures of goodwill. When giving or receiving a gift, it's polite to use both hands, similar to presenting a business card. Sometimes, a gift may be declined a few times before it's accepted. 

If you're invited to someone's home, it's thoughtful to bring a modest gift like wine or flowers for the host. Remember to offer and receive gifts with both hands, just like you would with business cards. 

It's important to note that gifts are usually not opened in front of the giver, respecting their privacy and the modesty of the gesture. These customs help maintain harmony and respect in Korean business interactions.


Language:


In South Korea, many business people in big cities understand English well, but they might feel a bit unsure about using it. 

Knowing some Korean words, and phrases, and being able to talk about time and numbers in Korean can impress them. It shows you care about their culture and want to learn. This makes your counterparts feel more comfortable around you and they'll remember you for it.


However, don't assume everyone outside big cities can speak English. So, being prepared with a bit of Korean can help you communicate better and build stronger connections, no matter where you are in South Korea.


Over to You…


Business Etiquettes in Korea

Remembering and respecting the business etiquette of the country you're working in is vital. 

In South Korea, where hierarchy is significant, it's crucial to observe this during meetings with Korean partners for success. Additionally, being sociable and polite at company events is important, as you never know who you might meet. 

With the insights from this guide, we hope you feel more confident about presenting yourself appropriately in the Korean workplace.




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