South Korea Business Etiquette

by Claire Valenty on January 23, 2010

in International Business Etiquette

international south korea etiquette

Your business expedition has brought you to one of Asia’s top economies: South Korea. There are two things to bear in mind. One, everyone is Korean so you need to have a third party introducer. Two if you want people’s head to turn your way, you’re going to need South Korean Business Etiquette. Business here begins at the personal level which is where practicing the following rules will take you.

Kibun and Nunchi…You’re going to hear these two words passing back and forth a lot here in South Korea. But would you know what it is? We’re glad to help. Kibun really has no literal meaning in English but you can pretty much get the gist of it from the terms pride, mood, feelings or the state of mind. So why bother? The words carry a lot of significance in Korean Business set-ups and understanding and applying the concepts they represent would be good practice of South Korean Business Etiquette. When someone’s Kibun is hurt, his pride is hurt and he loses face. You need to judge someone’s Kibun and avoid hurting it while balancing your own. You can learn someone’s Kibun or state of mind by Nunchi, which is basically using your eyes to determine Kibun. These words basically sum up what is needed to understand South Korean Business relationships: Deep respect for your business partner and understanding body language.

Who shakes and who bows…Figure out who the big guys are and you won’t mess up. You bow to the person of higher status and say “man-na-suh-pan-gop-sumnida” or “pleased to meet you”. But the person of higher status offers the handshake first. Got that? It’s just that simple. You don’t have to explain yourself. Here in South Korea, the interpreter tells your counterpart everything about you before hand.

The South Korean way to communicate…Be prepared for a night of drinking and eating if you want to establish lasting relationships in business here. South Koreans want to get to know you through these casual get-togethers before investing in your proposition. Be straight as a ruler here. South Koreans are direct and prefer questions answered directly and concisely. Tonight, come with an empty stomach and enjoy the party.

Use the chopstick the way they want it…Table manners are a vital part of South Korean Business Etiquette. Don’t point the chopsticks and don’t poke your food with them. You put them on the table every time you stop to talk and after a few bites. Once you’re done, place the chopsticks in a chopstick rest on the table.

The Korean way to meet and discuss… Schedule the meeting 3-4 weeks in advance. Go for a dark suit as a man and a dress with subdued colors as a woman. Wait for the senior to take off his coat before you take off yours.

After taking the above tips you can look forward to a great business experience in South Korea.

Photo: flickr/tiseb

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