Korean Business Etiquette Tips
While North Korea is still attempting to transition from a planned economy to capitalism, South Korea has a thriving, trillion-dollar economy, the 4th largest among Asian countries. Because of this, South Korea is an ideal place for business people to develop new clients and colleagues for expanding into Asian markets.
As with any international business interaction, knowing the ins and outs of proper business etiquette will be key to your success. Because just a few missteps could cost you a business deal, practicing proper Korean business etiquette will impress your Korean colleagues, demonstrate your finesse in the business world and help you solidify a lucrative new business relationship.
Korean Business Meeting Etiquette
Korean business meeting etiquette is highly ritualized, as the Koreans' appreciation of conformity, rules and order dictates specific ways of doing business in Seoul and throughout South Korea. Here are some Korean business etiquette tips to help you appropriately interact with your foreign colleagues:
- Avoid saying 'no' directly. Instead, indicate disagreement or reluctance by inhaling air through closed teeth, tipping your head backwards and/or saying 'maybe.'
- Break up your speech with pauses for questions and to facilitate translation. Try to pause between points you articulate allowing your colleagues time to listen to the Korean translation, digest your information and ask you questions. It is also important to remember that Korean businesspeople will likely ask you many questions (often a similar question in a variety of ways), so be patient.
- Present business cards with both hands. Include a Korean translation of your business card on the flipside, as this will show your colleagues that you are willing to go the extra mile to do business with them. As in Japan and China, when receiving business cards in Korea, be sure to carefully read them before putting them away. Shoving business cards into your pocket without reading them (or writing on business cards) is considered disrespectful and will offend your Korean colleagues.
- Send proposals and meeting agendas ahead of time so that your Korean colleagues can review them. As with your business cards, be sure that each business document is available with a Korean translation. This demonstrates respect for your Korean colleagues and ensures that they understand your goals for the meeting.
Other helpful etiquette tips for Korean business meetings include:
- Acknowledge those with the highest status first, then acknowledge those who are the oldest, as it's important to show respect for status and age.
- Expect your Korean colleagues to deliberate in a group before making decisions. Collectivity and teamwork are valued in Korean business transactions.
- Hire a Korean interpreter if you aren't fluent in Korean or if your colleagues don't speak English.
- Wear a dark-colored, conservative business suit to Korean business meetings.
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Values Honored in Korean-Speaking Countries
Many elements of Korean business etiquette are shaped by the values that Koreans respect. Some of these include:
- Certainty and Structure
- Collectivity and Teamwork
- Respect for Authority
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