South Korea Culture of Business

By | July 24, 2022

Subchapters:

  • Introduction
  • Addressing
  • Business Meeting
  • Communication
  • Recommendations
  • Public Holidays

Introduction

Korean business culture is based on a rigid vertical hierarchy. The vast majority of decision-making power is usually reserved for a narrow group of executives.

Other employees tend to have very little authority and are expected to carry out the decisions of superiors more administratively. Hard work, commitment, and prioritizing work duties over personal or family life are highly valued.

Addressing

In order to facilitate the establishment of new business relationships, it is advisable to use an introduction by a third party, who is already known to the potential partner, as far as possible. If this is not possible, it is recommended to use an intermediary who can communicate in Korean and is familiar with the local culture.

Korean entrepreneurs and company employees usually address each other by functional titles, or titles and surnames.

In the case of addressing a foreign partner, it is also appropriate to use a functional title and surname (e.g. Mr. Director Lee). It is important to keep in mind that surnames that sound the same are very common in Korea (typically Kim, Lee, Park, Choi). Using surnames in combination with functional titles will help avoid misunderstandings in this context. It is inappropriate to use your own names unless you have been specifically asked to do so by the other party.

In Korean business and corporate culture, there is a very strong emphasis on hierarchy. A good knowledge of the hierarchical position of the counterparty can significantly contribute to the success of business negotiations. The highest-ranking person usually arrives first and will be seated in the middle of the table, opposite the foreign partner, and will have the first floor throughout the meeting. Unless otherwise specified, the counterparty is expected to address this representative in preference.

Business meeting

Although bowing or nodding the head is a common form of greeting in Korean culture, especially when dealing with foreigners, handshakes are already common. This is usually followed by an exchange of business cards. It is a sign of respect to always give and receive business cards with both hands.

When it comes to giving gifts to business partners, this is a sensitive topic in connection with the applicable anti-corruption legislation. Therefore, it should be more about small items that have no real value.

In the vast majority of cases, work meetings take place at the headquarters or branch of the company, and depending on the situation, an invitation to a less formal lunch or dinner often follows.

Punctuality is an important aspect of business culture and a sign of respect towards a partner.

  • PaulSourcing: Tips and recommendations for doing business with South Korea. Also includes country basic data and information for entering the its market.

Koreans are very sensitive when it comes to some historical and geopolitical topics. It is not recommended to talk about matters related to the relationship with Japan. With a strong sense of national pride, caution is also in order when comparing Korea to other countries in cases where such comparisons might look unfavorable to Korea.

The dress code for business meetings is a dark suit with a tie. For women, more conservative dressing prevails, clothing that reveals the shoulders or neckline is not recommended.

Although larger companies understandably employ people who know foreign languages ​​(English is the most widespread), many not only executives still only communicate in Korean. In case of doubt, in order to speed up negotiations, it is advisable to send communications in Korean as well. After prior written agreement of the meeting, it is advisable to confirm it by phone as well.

There are no significant differences in the culture of negotiations between the regions. The course of negotiations will depend mainly on the preparedness, previous experience, and willingness of the counterparty to negotiate with foreign partners.

Communication

It is quite common that Koreans do not speak English or do not want to use English for cultural reasons. If you are not sure whether the other party has a sufficient command of English, it is better to continuously check whether the other party really understands you and thus avoid unnecessary misunderstandings. Visit Animalerts for more information about South Korea culture and traditions.

As in other Asian cultures, saving face is extremely important in Korea. During negotiations, it is therefore necessary to be careful so that the counterpart does not get into an embarrassing situation and to pay attention to a certain tact, sensitivity and restraint. Although this element of meeting culture is gradually changing, unlike in Western culture, direct face-to-face contact can be uncomfortable for Koreans.

As mentioned earlier, establishing an immediate relationship is important to Koreans, which helps them to build trust with the other party. Therefore, a personal meeting will typically be necessary at a certain stage of negotiations in order to deepen business cooperation.

Koreans usually do not invite business partners to their homes. In exceptional cases, in the event of an invitation, it is customary to bring a small gift (usually alcohol or, in the case of foreigners, a gift symbolizing the culture of their country).

Recommendation

In negotiations with Korean partners, it is advisable to take into account cultural differences, which are similar throughout East Asia. For example, it is customary to give and receive objects (including business cards or money) with both hands, or with the right hand, while supporting the right forearm with the left hand, it is not polite to blow your nose loudly, especially while eating.

Koreans are very particular about their appearance. A well-groomed appearance, including polished shoes, is one of the basic conditions of a successful entrepreneur in KR.

It is important that the meeting participants are punctual and very polite. It is worth giving the business partner a catalog, or at least brief information about the company in Korean.

It is not recommended to use sarcasm during negotiations. Koreans do not understand “Czech dark humor” and could feel insulted.

In cities, it is advantageous to use an affordable taxi for shorter distances. For longer distances around Seoul, it is convenient to use the extensive subway system and KTX bullet trains between cities.

Public Holidays

Among the most important national holidays in Korea, the Lunar New Year and Chusok are worth mentioning.
During these holidays, we do not recommend business trips – institutions and businesses are largely closed, and traffic throughout the country is significantly hampered by mass travel to visit relatives.

1.+2. January – Solar New Year
January/February – Lunar New Year – 3 days (date is variable)
March 1 – Independence Day
April/May – Birth of Buddha
May 5 – Children’s Day
June 6 – Freedom Day
July 17 – Constitution Day
August 15 – Liberation Day
September/October – Čusok (Thanksgiving Day) – 3 days (date is variable)
October 3 – National Day
December 25 – Christmas

South Korea Culture of Business