There are so many differences that can be discussed about our culture (united States) and South Korea. We could discuss their values, etiquette and customs, or business etiquette and protocol. I would like to detail my discussion to the cultural differences pertaining to the United States Business Etiquette and Protocols.
Let me begin by saying that we could argue that overall because America is considered the “Melting Pot” of all cultures that although we have Korean Americans there is still a great difference than the South Koreans.
South Korean relationships and communications are vastly different than those in America. They prefer to do business with people that they have a personal relationship with. So if you wish to engage, it would be in your best interest to be introduced by a third-party. A relationship with a Korean is developed through informal social gatherings that often involve a considerable amount of drinking and eating.
Individuals who have established mutual trust and respect will work hard to make each other successful. South Koreans treat legal documents as memorandums of understanding. They view contracts as loosely structured consensus statements that broadly define agreement and leave room for flexibility and adjustment as needed.
South Koreans are extremely direct communicators, under no circumstances insult or to criticize in front of other people. Sensitive matters may often be raised indirectly through the intermediary that first made the introductions. They are not averse to asking questions if they do not understand what has been said or need additional clarification.
This is a culture where “less is more” when communicating. Respond to questions directly and concisely. Since there is a tendency to say, “yes” to questions so that you do not lose face, the way you phrase a question is crucial. It is better to ask, “when can we expect shipment” than “Can we expect shipment in 3 weeks?” since the question requires a direct response.
On the other hand, United States style of communications and handling relationships are much different. A business conversation may take place during meals, however many times you will find more social conversation taking place during the actual meal. Meetings may be arranged as breakfast meetings, luncheon meetings, or dinner meetings depending on time schedules and necessity. Generally a dinner, even though for business purposes, is treated as a social meal and a time to build rapport.
United States communication styles include the offer of a firm handshake, lasting any where from 3-5 seconds, upon greeting and leaving. It is customary to maintain good eye contact during the handshake. If you are meeting several people at once, maintain eye contact with the person you are shaking hands with, until you are moving on to the next person. Eye contact is very important during business and social conversations in America; it shows interest, sincerity and confidence.
If you are meeting with a good friend, you may briefly embrace. Although in larger settings, like being in a large city requires that you use a more formal the behavior. Introductions include one’s title if appropriate to include full name. Business cards are generally exchanged during introductions, and a smile is considered a sign of friendliness.