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It’s nothing personal – unless you’re in Korea (Korean business relationships)

Business relationships.

You know the whole “It’s nothing personal – it’s just business” saying that we have in English?

Yeah, not true in Korea.

Michael Scott Korea business personal

Cold calling? Door-to-door? Directory assistance? Are you kidding me? This is the land of social networks and personal relationships. Korea is a never-ending web of social connections. And you’re just trying to close a sale? Move along. Korea’s looking for a long-term business relationship. One that requires someone to navigate the and nurture the relationship from within Korea. A lifer.

Korea is a place of great economic clout. The little country that could is carrying a big stick and should not be overlooked or doubted. Like Taiwan and Singapore, Korea is one of the few Asian countries that came out strong after the 1997 IMF crisis. Nice job guys. Pat yourself on the back. And believe you me, Korea didn’t get to be such an economic bad mamma jamma without a little personal touch to business. So how does one get into the door of Korean business?

It’s all about who you know. If you went to elementary school with some mid-level business exec and twenty years later you want to try your sales pitch on him, you’re much more likely to get the account versus someone else with a little more to offer for a little less. Why wouldn’t the company just go with the most profitable service provider? Korean rule of thumb: Good relationships are good business and they supercede the bottom line. If nothing else, their business loyalty is impressive.

And to think I haven’t even got into the myriad that is contracts and Confucian history. In Korea, contracts are seen as starting points to negotiation and shouldn’t be taken in the same sense as Western contracts. Remember, in Korea, people are more important than what is written on a piece of paper. American dependence on written contracts and inflexibility is quite remarkable if looked at in this light. Korean negotiators historically have balked at Western reliance on paper contracts instead of verbal and non-verbal agreements. This translates to a Korean business pulling out of a sign, sealed deal moments before the deal was to be announced. Why shouldn’t they have the freedom to do so? Their intuition is more trustworthy than a piece of paper – regardless of what it represents. Such is business in Korea.

Korean Contracts Business Trade Negotiation

This “personal” approach to business has some baggage, no? It’s easy to see why the personal touch is frowned upon. Some foreigners are a bit candid in their observations and while I’m sure shady business relationships aren’t just exclusive to any one country – let alone Korea.

So take it from the Michael Scott school of business – keep it personal. If you get your foot in the door, dig in like a tick and be prepared to spend some after-hours with your new business partners. Because your relationship with them is the lifeblood of the deal, contract, and all other considerations. Think not of your life as a separation of business and personal – here they intermix like orange juice and toothpaste. Get used to it, partner.

Thoughts?