Korea

On Korea, Part 3: Meetings, Negotiations, Dinner & Alcohol

Utilize your network! Relationships are important in Korean society, they are the basis from which everything else is built, including business. The ability to accomplish your business goals is proportionate to who you know, and additionally their status and contacts. Korean companies are often members of larger conglomerates, and high ranking officers are usually involved with government agencies…waiting is all part of the game—there may be quite a few people you need to meet with in order for your proposals to go anywhere. The lone wolf that meets you for your business meting may serve as gatekeepers, but this person may be the one who sells your proposal to the rest of his company.  He or she are your first obstacle to success in South Korea, so present to him or her as if they were the last person you would present to.

Meetings: Most meetings, like China and Japan, are formalities with an exchange of information, so be prepared to provide copious amounts of it. Sending materials ahead of you so that your Korean colleagues can review it could be something to consider. It goes without stating to come well organized and prepared; during the meeting avoid disagreement and present a united front. These Irish of Asia are prepared to express emotions, and barter with you…en garde!

Negotiations: Korean negotiations are more emotionally charged than most other countries in Asia, and some in the West. They may be aggressive, direct and quicker to express anger or frustration…how are you going to react to all of this? Keep your cool (Save your face!). Usually if they have a good feeling about you, price (if fair) is not really an issue…let them buy your personality first, business is easier that way. Contracts are similar to the Chinese memorandums: flexibility is key. When your meeting starts to divert to social chit chat, your meeting is probably over…however if they are curious about a particular facet of your proposal…pursue it! Bow at the beginning and end of a meeting…and prepare to get to know everyone after hours.

After Hours: Dinner has become the main meal of the day, and business dinners invitations are customary. DO NOT DENY! It is important to establish these informal relations as it builds on your personal character, which is not really separate from you business persona. Koreans have similar dining etiquette as the Chinese and Japanese, concerning seating arrangements, how much food to put on your plate, the use and placement of chopsticks, etc, however “elbow support” is used when passing food or drink. Mutual trust and compatibility are the basis for good business relationships in Korea; in order to asses your true personality, alcohol is used. Among alcohol’s many powers, one of its main powers, unfortunately, is allowing people to speak their mind, regardless of situation. Know your limits, what may be said after a two, or three, or four, or five (are we starting to slur our words yet?) drinks can be taken seriously the following morning.

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