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Doing business in South Korea

Japanese companies are highly hierarchical. Nevertheless, decisions are not made purely at the top management level. On the contrary. The Japanese generally strive for harmony and consensus from the bottom upwards. 

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At a first business meeting, your South Korean partners are primarily interested in being able to classify you correctly. The South Korean society is very strongly hierarchically structured, and all relations are determined by the finely differentiated rank differences.

In addition to age and family background, the most important criteria are the exact position in the company hierarchy, the length of service with the company and the educational background.
South Koreans will therefore ask you directly and openly about your age, your family, your position in the company and even your income. Foreigners often perceive these direct questions as intrusion into their privacy. The South Koreans, however, use the information gained purely for the correct hierarchical classification, which determines their further behaviour.

Exchange of business cards

Against this background the exchange of business cards at the beginning of a meeting is of importance. Business cards contribute significantly to identifying the hierarchical position of the counterpart.

Consequently, your card should contain all the necessary information. It can be recommendable to reach higher with regard to your own position if you want to talk to the decision-makers who are highly placed in the South Korean hierarchy. In South Korea only people on the same hierarchical level can interact with each other! 

After a not too firm handshake you should first introduce yourself with your first and last name plus your position in the company. Then present your business card with a slight bow.  Your business cards should be in perfect condition, fresh from the press if possible, as they symbolize your professional status.

When you receive a business card, you should accept it respectfully and study it carefully. Don’t just let a business card slip into your pocket, but place it in a case or in front of you on the table.

Always hand over or take a business with your right hand while your left hand supports your right wrist. This is a sign of respect. Alternatively, you can use both hands, but never only the left hand!

Position according to hierarchy

If you travel as a delegation and meet a group of South Koreans, make sure that the participants are positioned according to the hierarchy. The highest ranking person is always welcomed first. There is no ladies-first, only oldest-first!

There are many more business etiquette rules to learn! Why not start with our culture videos?

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