As a business owner or representative, how much do you know about Korean etiquette and business culture, or that of the world for that matter? You may think that your answer is inconsequential to your business operations but in fact it is becoming increasingly important to know and practice the culture and traditions of other countries when conduction foreign business. The world is a myriad of cultures and traditions that not only dictates the way people live within their ethnic groups, but affects the way business is done too. In today’s interconnected world more and more business deals are made on a global scale and thus it is important to understand the business ethics of the host country.
South Korea is the ‘Asian Tiger’ with the real bite, with massive multinationals like Samsung, Hyundai and Kia having marked their success around the globe. In order to break a deal with a Korean company it is vital that you have a good understanding of South Korean business etiquette. As much as Koreans are a very proud ethnic group with strong traditions they are also very sensitive to action that may dishonour them, or make them ‘lose face’. Read carefully and learn.
Good Korean Business Etiquette is About Being Social
First of all, South Koreans prefer to conduct business with an associate with some kind of personal connection. Thus, the first step to great Korean business etiquette is to get introduced by a third party or mutual acquaintance. If the social relationships of a Korean could be mapped, it would be a series of circles surrounding the Korean- you want to be as close to the inner circle as possible. In Korea, business is not just business and social gatherings are very frequent. If you want to make a good impression you should never reject an invitation and be prepared, as Korean social gatherings with the backdrop of business consist of much drinking and eating. When drinking it is important to pour for your elders first and wait for them to start drinking before you do. In turn, let elders pour for you. It is also good Korean business etiquette to turn your head away from elders when taking a sip of alcohol; it is a sign of humility and respect. Remember that the first business meeting is usually about getting to know each other first, but take your cues from the eldest Korean member. Never criticize a Korean in front of others; this will make them ‘lose face’ or honour, which is the greatest insult
Korean Etiquette and Business Attire
Regarding clothing for good Korean etiquette, be conservative. Colours should be neutral and wear minimal jewellery- your watch and wedding band will do. Conceal any tattoos and remove unusual piercings. Unlike in Western culture were body art is a symbol of individuality, many Koreans particularly the older generation consider tattoos taboo.
Korean Etiquette and Business Cards
After the initial introduction, the exchange of business cards is quite an affair. In Korean etiquette and ethics in business, how you treat a business card is an indication of how you treat a business person in general. Always give a business card, or any object, with one hand outstretched and the other lightly resting on your arm between your hand and elbow. This also applies to a handshake. Finally for good South Korean business etiquette always receive an object with two hands.