DEARBORN – With record-setting sales every month, South Korea is poised to play a major role within Ford Export and Growth (E&G). As the business continues to grow, an increasing number of E&G employees will likely be interacting with Korean colleagues – often for the first time.
To help ensure the development of positive relationships, a number of employees recently participated in a cultural awareness seminar focused not only on business practices, but Korean history, religion/spirituality, cultural shifts and values, and how those factor into business relationships.
In South Korea there are varying levels of formality in the traditional greeting (a bow), conversations and written exchanges. To avoid giving offense, it’s best to follow the Koreans’ lead in lessening the level of formality.
The seminar’s subject matter expert, Seung Min Yu, says meetings carry their own set of rules: “Participation is formal, yet the meeting itself may not adhere to the agenda. While punctuality is expected of foreigners, and is considered a good business practice, Koreans may be late.”
Yu says it’s not uncommon for Koreans to use meetings to revisit agreements, which may be altered, while Westerners are more likely to adhere to what has already been agreed upon. He says Koreans are more inclined than Westerners to avoid clear-cut agreements, confrontations and ultimatums. Harmony is important. During discussions, Westerners should not ask questions that require a “yes” or “no” response, as people in Korea avoid saying “no.”
Hospitality is ingrained. “Koreans link being hospitable to their personal pride and their pride in their country or culture,” Yu says. “While declining a drink without offering a reason is acceptable in the United States, in Korea guests should offer a plausible excuse in order to avoid giving offense.”
Americans tend to be more individualistic than their Korean counterparts and want everyone to adhere to the same standards, regardless of their status. However in Korea, business hierarchies mirror families, and a person’s status can mean a different set of expectations.
That hierarchy, says Yu, even extends to seating arrangements in a four-door car. “The most important person in the car sits behind the front passenger seat. While the front seat may be the spot-of-choice in the United States, in Korea it is the fourth-ranked spot.”
Koreans are very proud of their culture and do not like comparisons to Chinese or Japanese people. Yu says acknowledging the uniqueness of their culture or how they are different is generally well-received.
A few other interesting facts:
• Customers are not just always right in Korea – customers are kings.
• Korean customers hold imported products and services to a higher level of scrutiny than domestics and will react strongly when displeased.
• The ability to fit golf clubs into the trunk of a car is very important – and a key selling point.
• Exchanging business cards should be done with two hands or, to demonstrate higher respect, with the left hand supporting the right arm by the wrist.
• It is considered rude to place business cards in a pocket or tuck them into a folder. To be polite, carry a case for the cards and treat them gently.
Korean employees are proud to be a part of Ford; they will buy Ford products and be loyal to the company to a greater extent than in the United States. Coworkers and colleagues view themselves as a family unit and tend to stick together outside of work; they don’t mingle with people from other companies as much as Americans tend to.
The lunch-and-learn cultural seminars are a regular occurrence within Export & Growth, designed to help employees establish positive relationships with colleagues around the world.
E&G supports emerging markets in the Middle East, Caribbean and Central America, Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia Pacific.