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South Korea – Meeting Etiquette

South Korea is located in between China and Japan and as naturally expected, there are similarities in some aspects with these 2 countries but many of the things are very different from those either of China or Japan.  Interestingly, some characteristics show that South Korea is in the middle level like the geography is : Chinese could be considered mostly open, imaginative with great flexibility and Japanese could be more organized and faithful to rules with much less flexibility. South Koreans are just in the middle level of the 2 countries in those characters.

Like most Asian countries, South Korea respects relationship, hierarchy and it is important to measure especially how you could be perceived by the public, which is linked with “face”;  this is very important traditionally and still it is certainly an aspect which is not negligible.  However, South Koreans can be the most direct and straight-forward people among any Asians and sometimes they may be received as “rude” because of that.  Today, young people are exposed to global trends, western culture, foreign languages etc. and the tradition and new trends are co-existing.

When you have meetings with South Koreans, especially with big company executives, the norm will be more in tradition-side :

  • When you ask for a meeting, if you go through someone’s introduction who is already known to the key person, it will be helpful. Otherwise, you could go directly to the assistant asking for a meeting and explaining a bit of the content of the meeting. If the counterpart judges it is important, then the message will go through the channel and you will get an answer whether the meeting will be set up or not.
  • If the meeting is set, punctuality is needed and if you are 5 minutes early, it will be appreciated.
  • The key person may or may not appear in the meeting.
  • When you are in the meeting, the top persons of each party speak and others would listen. In some cases there might be questions from others as well if allowed.
  • South Koreans are usually called by the surname plus title, like KIM Managing Director in South Korean.
  • Dress code shall be smart casual for both males and females while for females it is a bit with more variety.
  • The first thing in the meeting is a greeting and exchange of name cards. Receiving and giving name cards in polite ways is needed and to put the received name cards carefully on the table until the meeting is over is important. If it is your first time meeting, shaking hands will not likely happen but if it is the second/third time meeting shaking hands is common, no exception with women as well. However if the meeting is women to women meeting then shaking hands may be excused.
  • The meeting can be very direct and if positive, they will say that they will discuss. If it is not positive, they may say this on the spot or say it is “difficult”.

When you have meetings with new trend companies such as IT/design/software etc., then they try to eliminate all the titles, formalities etc. so it will be much less formal and easy although the content of the meeting may not be very much different.

Last update: 26 February 2020