Serious business

Etiquette tips for business in South Korea

By DESMOND SO

Attire

Men should wear dark, conservative suits, and women should wear conservative suits or skirts with a hemline below the knee (unless you’re a K-pop star). A high neckline and covered shoulders are strongly encouraged.

Greetings

It’s recommended that introductions be made through a third party who knows you both. A slight bow held during handshakes is appreciated; wait for seniors to offer their hand. Always use titles when addressing people; formality is important and even the use of first names requires certain honorific designations.

Meetings

Be punctual, but don’t expect everyone to be on time; Koreans raise ‘busy’ to an art form. Seniors should enter a room first. First meetings are for establishing trust, not for doing business. Seemingly personal questions help establish your rank in the meeting and break the ice. Maintain contact after the meeting by calling or emailing.

Noteworthy

When you receive a business card, read the whole card, then place it on the table; afterwards, put cards in a holder, not pockets or wallets. Never write on the card. Always carry business cards with your title prominently featured to help establish rank.

Faux Pas

The concept of ‘face’ is important; humility, modesty and sociability are genuine necessities – and so is drinking. However, touching is unwelcome, no matter how drunk everyone is. Don’t blow your nose, and try not to sneeze in public. Don’t discuss Korean politics or compare South Korea with other countries, especially when drinking.

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