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Corporate Culture In South Korea

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The Corporate Culture in South Korea

Business in the XXI century is becoming more and more global, international; we find new partners in various, sometimes very exotic parts of the world. It is all possible thanks to the common language (assuming that "everybody" knows English), good and fast transportation and new ways of communication, like for example Internet. We are learning from each other and trying to adjust to new situations, although the differences are often much greater than just a language or a skin color. It gets harder when not only two different countries, but two different civilizations clashes. Then it is easy and highly likely that a lot of misunderstandings will occur, what can be a threat to our potential cooperation. That's why it is important to get to know the basic information about the culture and habits of the country we plan to do business with. There might be just some small differences, but those small differences might make a huge change in the overall impression and image of us, and significantly contribute to our future collaboration. Further in this essay I'm presenting some information that might be useful before we do business with South Koreans.

Before we move to specific aspects of the Korean culture it is crucial to know about very strong Confucian traditions in that country. At this time Koreans are the most conservative Confucian society in Asia. Its main characteristics are loyalty, centralization of the power, hierarchy, collective responsibility, high work ethic, respect for older people and caring more about the group success than individual. Worth remembering is the fact that Confucianism is not a religion, but a social and moral philosophy, what Europeans often confuse. It is easy to see and experience those values even during the first contact with Koreans.

Of course we have to remember about some rules that are rather unchangeable and the same everywhere in the world. One of them is punctuality. Koreans are rather punctual and they expect the same from their business partners.

Polish people can have some problems with Korean names. In business Koreans usually don't like calling them by their first names out loud, because many of them believe it can bring bad luck. Only closest friends and family members can use them. Typically Koreans have first and second name and a surname. The last name used to be always written and pronounced before first names, but now this situation got little more complicated and confusing, because it happens that names are reversed. It's caused by the trend of having European names, what on the other hand has some pros for us, simply because we are more used to those names, they are easier to pronounce and to remember. When it comes to Koreans working and living in Poland for a longer period of time it even happens that they are taking Polish names, so don't be surprised when you will see Roman Lee or Jacek Kim . So as we can see it is good to show some effort before a meeting and find out which name is the first and which is the second. Using titles like Mr. President or Mr. Chairman is also acceptable. Besides that Koreans very like when we use their titles connected with their education, for example Ph.D.

There are two interesting facts about the names in South Korea. First is that there is only about 250 last names. Of these, Kim, Park and Lee make almost 50% of the whole (Kim makes about 25%). Of course most of them are not related, what makes a lot of problems for Europeans and creates many funny situations. The second is that women do not change their names after they get married.

Extremely important in doing businesses with Koreans are business cards. Exchanging them is an important thing; we could even say a ceremony. Its main purpose is to provide Koreans with information about our status, what helps them quickly assign us to a particular group and place us in their own hierarchy. The content of the business card will pretty much determine how you will be treated. It is absolutely impossible to participate in a meeting with Koreans without business cards, and you should have them with you at any time.

Having business cards is crucial, but it is not only to have them, it is also important what is on them and how to deal with them. First of all, it is best when our card is Korean (with no mistakes; other way it might be taken as showing disrespect). The second option is a card in English. Polish business card is completely useless, because it doesn't tell them anything and doesn't let them classify us in their hierarchy.

Assuming that one has the most common, English business card, he has to make sure that the name and the title has been correctly translated. Naturally we shouldn't lie on our card, but we should translate our title in such a way, it will look possibly best. We should always have in mind how important the titles are for Koreans, and that no other country in Asia pays that much attention to it. Very often having a good, prestigious title is more valuable for them then the salary.

While exchanging the business cards we should remember to always hold them with two hands, with text on the top. When someone hands us out his business card, we should take short time to take a careful look at it and get familiar with it. We absolutely can not just take it and put it to our pocket or a wallet. We should not hide it anywhere at all; it is best to put it in a place where we can easily see it during the whole meeting, for example on the table. It happens that Koreans write the pronunciation of the Polish names on the card, although we are not allowed to do the same thing. We can not write anything on it and not bind it, because it shows disrespect towards owner of the card.

To make a good first impression it is good to learn few words in Korean, like "Good afternoon, how was your flight?" etc. It is usually hard, but it is also a nice surprise for them and it makes them as happy as when any foreign takes the challenge and tries to say something in Polish. I would suggest though consulting our Korean expression with someone who actually knows Korean first to make sure our guests will understand us and what is more important to avoid offending them or any other awkward situation.

In contacts with Koreans we should rather use simple English, at least at the beginning when we don't know how well they now it. It is better when we speak slowly and clearly, using the basic vocabulary. For some Koreans admitting they can not understand what we are saying would be very embarrassing. When it comes to English language Korean situation is similar to Polish one. Everybody in Korea learns English, but at the end they know it



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