FOR SUCCEEDING ON YOUR KOREAN BUSINESS TRIP
Contacts > Business Meetings > Business Hours > Corporate
Structure > Negotiation
Koreans have three names: two given names and a surname.
should feel comfortable asking a person how they would like to be
tend to be more formal initially. When addressing a new
use formal titles such as “Mr.,” “Mrs.,” or “Dr.” High
attainment is respected throughout Asia. Those with Ph'd degrees
are usually addressed as Dr. and then their family name. First or
given names are considered personal and are rarely used in
Wait to be invited to use first names and don't be offended if your
doesn't offer to use these more personal names. Most Korean wives
retain their maiden names.
slowly and clearly but not so slow as to be offensive, as your host may
not be fluent in English. Most Koreans understand written English
than spoken English. Use written materials and graphics, whenever
possible have these materials translated into Korean. This shows
respect for the country and the culture and improves comprehension of
points you are trying to make. If your business is technical it
best to hire an interpreter to help you. Keep in mind in using an
interpreter that using your own is usually better than one supplied to
you by your host.
Koreans appear quite westernized it is important to remember that they
hold Korean values that are different in certain respects. Kibun,
which relates to a person’s mood or state of mind, affects all
To hurt someone’s Kibun causes a loss of dignity. Maintaining
is more important than absolute truth.
will smile in a variety of situations such as when they are happy, sad,
nervous or embarrassed. Don't necessarily assume that a smile
acceptance. In certain circumstances it can have many
The Korean sense of humor is often very direct.
perception and image matter a great deal to Koreans.
of large companies are usually better received initially than those of
smaller less well-known companies.
to obtain a formal introduction to make a business contact with
Korea is a relatively small country and relationships are instrumental
in many parts of Korean life. Koreans value introductions and
from people they know. Use acquaintances, suppliers, accountants,
or consultants to gain these introductions.
seeking an introduction to a large Korean firm, see if it has a
where your company also has an office. If your subsidiary has
with the other firm or managers in the two firms know each other, this
can serve as the means to introduce you to your target customer.
is always very helpful to have a local partner.
should be approved by the Korean government.
calls and letters usually do not work.
meetings with Korean companies before arriving in the country, do not
to arrive in Korea and then be able to meet with them.
choosing a local partner, research the market extensively to make sure
you choose your local partner based on full information. It is
to establish relations with several firms in case partnerships break
is best to assign one person to represent your firm on a permanent
This allows personal relationships to develop which are critical for
success. This person can verify that work is getting
Frequent visits will assure the Korean business that you are committed
Korean Trade Promotion Corporation (KOTRA) publishes a guide that
an overview of business information.
South Korean professionals are accustomed to Western customs because
studied or worked overseas. Almost all the businesspeople have
familiarity with Western culture. Government officials however
to be more traditional and conservative.
South Koreans choose to hold a first meeting in their office.
is very important. Shaking hands is a common greeting with both
and women; it may be accompanied with a slight nod or bow.
exchanging of business cards is very ritualized and important part
a first meeting. The business card should be presented and
received with both hands, with the writing facing the receiver.
respect by reading the card slowly and placing it on the table in front
of you. If possible have your cards printed in Korean on one side.
a first meeting with casual conversation about your trip. Do no
to accomplish too much at this first meeting. Koreans need to
you out and get a sense of your intentions, trustworthiness and
will try to match you with someone of similar rank. Keep this in
mind when selecting a representative as it can be very important.
are not required for early meetings. If you have established a
through writing or on the telephone, you may want to bring a small
such as a pen or a gift with the company logo. If you meet with a
group, bring a gift for the senior person as well as all the
The senior person’s gift should be different and more expensive than
others. If you receive a gift do not open it in front of the
businesses are open from 8:30 or 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. on weekdays and
from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. of Saturdays.
November to February government offices close daily at 5:00 p.m.
are open from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on weekdays and from 9:30 a.m. to
1:30 p.m. on Saturdays.
hours vary but most are open from 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. everyday.
stores are open from 10:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. everyday.
companies are dominated by chaebols, which are large business
many of which are family owned and operated.
typical corporation has a chairman of the board at the top. Below
the senior level are division chiefs, section chiefs, managers and
The corporate structure is heavily influenced by the Japanese model.
consider a person’s character to be just as important as the contract
deal. To be successful you must develop a trusting personal
with your business partner. As part of developing this
Koreans spend time on business socializing. It is important to
social invitations and to reciprocate. It may appear at first
business is not a major part of the agenda but of course, it certainly
prefer group consensus as their decision-making model. The senior
person makes the final decision. Koreans tend to be very
and risk averse.
or adversarial negotiations do not work in Korea. Your opposite
may appear on the surface to agree just to keep discussions
You must give the average Korean time to reach agreement or the deal
never happen. They can appear to be rigid, stubborn and
You need to be clear about your position. It is best for you as
foreigner never to raise your voice or become visibly frustrated,
absolutely necessary in the final stages of the negotiation.
that in making a decision the Korean businessperson will consider
relationships and character as well as business.
do not like to say “no” directly and want to preserve harmony under all
circumstances. You may need to ask several indirect questions to
get to the true response.
the word “win” which implies a one-sided benefit – the goal is harmony
so use words like “we would like to receive the contract ” are more
as other hard bargainers will seek to gain as many concessions as
you are asked the same question repeatedly it is to ensure the
of the information so no mistakes will occur.
Koreans are concerned with price over cost efficiency or
Usually the top three proposals are invited to a financial
The winning bid is usually the lowest bid passing the technical review.
foreign firms have fared best when they work in collaboration with a
contracts should be used in all transactions. Koreans view of
is different from the Western view. Koreans see contracts more
believing they allow room for flexibility. Often the rules will
as the situation changes, it is important to be specific about
This different view of contracts can be problematic and it is therefore
advisable to consider and discuss future situations.
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