In less than a century, South Korea managed to reinvent itself from a severely poverty-stricken nation to one of world’s leading economies, as well as a global leader of innovation. This is due to their diligence to grow and transform into the state they are today, as well as from a very well applied organized culture, revolving around Confucianism. This well-structured system of thought and behaviour praises the merits of far-reaching education, placing an emphasis on prudence and loyalty, hard work and acceptance of temporary drawbacks – using them as further motivation.
Whenever you find yourself in the situation of conducting business in South Korea, it is very important that you get familiarized with some guidelines of their business etiquette, as they tend to be very particular about it. Furthermore, they tend to appreciate greatly when their counterparts are making an effort towards complying with their cultural backgrounds, thus offering the opportunity of creating a strong and well-established business relationships.
Therefore, please find some advices below that can help you make a lasting impression that can build up towards harmonious business encounters:
- Hierarchy: Age and status are of absolute importance in a business encounter, hierarchy being one sizable driver of South Korean social interactions. It is important that you identify the ranking and adjust your behaviour accordingly.
- Proper use of names: It is very important that you distinguish their first and last names and while partaking in the first business meetings, you must use their last name when addressing to your counterparts. However, when the relationship becomes more personal and familiar, you may ask for permission to use their given name.
- Korean language: Learning a business partner’s cultural heritage and language shows a great sign of respect and appreciation. Even knowing just a few words will be admired, as well as it would make a great opener that can easily ‘break-the-ice’ during a business encounter.
- Bow and shake hands: Bowing is a large part of South Korean culture, however hand-shaking has started to get accepted as a form of greet within the latest decades. However, it hasn’t completely overlapped bowing, remaining still an important part of their cultural behaviour. It is recommended that you combine the two and slightly bow during a firm handshake with your counterpart.
- Dining: South Koreans embrace a more personal approach to business encounters, meaning that you should be prepared for dinner invitations. However, business dinners are considered to be strictly for the individuals involved in the collaboration and therefore, you should not extend the invitation to your spouse or partner.
- Dress-code: Dressing in a conservative corporate attire, represents a vital element for establishing a professional business relationship. Men should always wear white shirts and ties, while women should not expose extravagant jewellery.
- Strong relationships: Their business culture often lands on personal relationships, making it quite imperative that you try to build strong professional relationships. These relationships are often developed through informal social gatherings, which will often involve alcohol – as it is a big part of their business culture, considered to be the most simple way to relieve stress and create personal relationships.
- Gifting: Gifts are a sign of respect within South Korean culture which involves a small effort that can go a long way. However, you must be careful and considerate while gifting, meaning that you should offer something symbolic, rather than something expensive, that might cause the receiver to feel uncomfortable.
- Business Cards: South Koreans value social status quite a lot so it is very important, especially during your first meetings that you have prepared a set of business cards on offer for all counterparts. Before the beginning of the meeting, offer your business card politely with both hands and wait for one in return.
To conclude, learning a few notable guidelines that are representing South Korean business culture is of utter importance when faced with a situation in which you are trying to build a harmonious business relationship. Follow the steps above and make sure you avoid any uncomfortable situations, making these encounters as pleasurable for both counterparts as possible.
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