Being a high-context culture as Korea it comes with many highs and lows. Just as much as for low-context cultures :) However, most importantly, there are certain things for which one should prepare him/herself having decided to come here since Korea is classified as a high-context country.
But what does it really mean?
A high-context culture often has the following characteristics:
· Collectivist (not individualist)
· Loyal (not independent)
· Hierarchical (not egalitarian)
· Relationship oriented (not information oriented)
· Haggling culture (not argument culture)
As a Confucian Culture, people respect authority, duty, hierarchical relationship and seniority.
Their communication is implicit as well as indirect; their value relationship and status over task and performance. Their goal is to maintain harmony in their organizational life.
They easily get emotional and embarrassed and they do take each other’s feelings into account as opposed to Westerners who are usually more logical and impersonal and tend to separate business from personal life.
When negotiating, Koreans are more the listener types while westerners are more of the lecturing types. When having business meetings, Koreans prefer seeking ways of building and fostering relationships instead of going for the bottom lines (results and numbers) only.
They almost never talk about business while eating, not like in the West when they often hold business lunches or dinners. Nevertheless, Koreans do like to drag the meetings on for(ever) very long hours hence counterparts should always be prepared with a great deal of patience when dealing with them.
It is also usual for Koreans to place trust outside of signing a contract! Oral agreement is taken very seriously here, actually more trusted than written! This is one of the cultural differences that can cause a lot of misunderstandings for westerners who only trust a written agreement or contract. To Koreans, the final contract is actually less important then the strength of the relationship between the two parties and that’s what usually Americans fail to understand. (See the example of Wal-Mart leaving the country last October).
Koreans also tend to avoid conflicts so as not to ruin the atmosphere. Maintaining harmony is extremely important for them. They often give positive answers to avoid upsetting anyone. Therefore saying `YES` in a negative answer means `I heard you but not necessarily agree with you`. They never tell you `NO` or would disagree with you for that matter. Non-verbality is also one of the important traits of their communication while western communication is more word-based.
Delaying their responses simply happens not to end up giving the wrong answer, unlike westerners who bound to deliver quick responses at the risk of being wrong.
Giving bad news is usually put off until the afternoon so as to have a calm morning :)
They also stay away from lengthy eye contact as it is a sign of disrespect.
I reckon that one of their biggest weaknesses is time-management unfortunately – as mentioned already a couple of times in my previous posts. Punctuality does not play an essential role in their lives and they just simply don’t seem to observe time or keep track of it. Meetings and agendas therefore often seem to be simply fluid.
Not only is their society hierarchical but their language structure as well. The Korean structure forces the importance of titles and seniority, who is older or whose title is higher which generally affects all aspects of Korean life.
When meeting someone the first time it is polite to hand out business cards usually using both hands or with your right hand with the left supporting your right elbow. Same with accepting business card or present: you can accept it with using both hands and one while the other supporting your elbow and it is the same when accepting a present or anything else for that matter.
Entertaining and being entertained is also an essential part of building a close relationship with Korean counterpart. For males, ritual drinking is a traditional way to get to know each other and it is even appropriate to drink heavily?!… This is also an opportunity to deepen the relationship and learn more about them. (Moreover, they become much more relaxed and talkative;)
Characteristics of a Korean worker:
· is always willing to go the extra miles and do overtimes to complete the task he’s responsible for
· usually dresses in dark suit
· can be called on duty even when it’s a public holiday
· always puts personal mobile number on his business card regardless whether he has his own business or work for a big company
· will never criticize the employer – at least not in public.
Hopefully, putting together these information will provide others a better understanding of the Korean (corporate) culture.