How To Negotiate In South Korea

Every westerner, who has ever negotiated in South Korea knows that Koreans are clever, wild and tough negotiators. They are not conditioned by any sense of fair play and often take advantage of their weaker adversary.

When negotiating in South Korea, you should be aware of the fact, that they express themselves in vague terms and usually keep their real intentions hidden until the last moment. They usually swing back and forth between being confrontational and compromising.

Consequently, it is advised not to tell them your departure date. If you do, they will invariably lead you on and wait until the last minutes or even seconds to inform you that they cannot accept your terms.

By doing that, they will put you under the pressure to make last-minute decision in order not to go home empty handed.

Also be warned that they are capable of totally switching their position without any explanation for their actions. This is something, all the westerners find very irrational and upsetting.

Their negotiation style also includes throwing in some kind of surprise that catches you off guard. This trap is known as “sunsu chida”, which means “first to draw” or “first to strike”.

Part of their negotiation style is coming to negotiations unprepared, quite often without settled details of their position. Thus, don’t get shocked if they need to stop negotiations and consult with their colleagues. They typically hold side discussions during the negotiation process. This usually happens every time you ask a question or make a point. Do not freak out!

As a result, they always negotiate in groups. Therefore, one of the keys to successful negotiations in South Korea is to know exactly who will you negotiate with. The number of people, their age, titles, specialities, and responsibilities. Once you know that, you should make sure you bring similar troop of your own. In case you can bring people who are senior in age, experiences and authority, this would be even better.

I would also like to point out that sometimes Koreans get very aggressive and loud. This is part of their culture and negotiation style. Do not take it personally!

Finally, I would like to emphasise that to ensure business success in Korea, it’s important to build personal relationships with your contacts and follow their business etiquette. Having good product at a good price is simply not enough!


P.S. This article was written based on my personal experiences and stories I heard from other westerners who negotiated with South Korean companies. You need to keep in mind that it was written from westerner point of view and is focusing on international negotiations, which are usually much more complex than domestic (Jure Šutar).



Jure Šutar

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