Korea is probably more heavily influenced by Confucian values than any other business culture (including China).

Confucian ethics permeate all aspects of working life from management systems to interpersonal relations and although both Western and Japanese influences are becoming stronger there is a deep well of conservatism within Korean society which makes change difficult, slow and somewhat painful.

Confucian ethics emphasise the value of collective group harmony, respect for authority (and therefore management), as well as the all embracing importance of family, clan and friendship. Thus, as in countries like Japan and China, the quality of relationships is the real key to business success at both a personal and a corporate level. A Korean saying highlights the all-important nature of networking and relationships – ‘make a friend first and a client second’. The key to creating good relationships lies in one’s ability to play the Confucian game. It is important to appear to be an honourable, trustworthy and respectable person.

The economic downturn experienced in South Korea during the Asian currency crisis (as well as many other Asian countries) precipitated a period of great introspection which has led to many traditional beliefs and approaches being challenged both internally and externally.

Thus, South Korea is a business culture at a significant crossroads with a great need to find an accommodation between traditional values and modern management practice.

A brief overview of some key concepts to consider when doing business in South Korea

Written and Produced by Keith Warburton

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This country profile has been produced to give a short overview of some of the key concepts to bear in mind when doing business with contacts in South Korea. It is intended to be an aid to business people who have commercial dealings with counterparties in the country but should not be seen as an exhaustive guide to this topic or as a substitute for more substantial research should there be a need.

With this in mind, we have covered the areas which are key to a better understanding of the cultural mindset underpinning business dealings in South Korea and which are, quite often, extremely different from the approach and thought processes associated with business in other parts of the world.

Therefore this briefing note is broken into short, bite-sized sections on the following topics:

  • Background to business
  • Business Structures
  • Management style
  • Meetings
  • Teamwork
  • Communication
  • Women in business
  • Entertaining
  • Top tips