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Posted on October 8th, 2012, by

The development of modern business confronts new challenges, which many companies have to overcome to expand their business and enter new markets. In this respect, the problem of cultural differences and cultural barriers is probably one of the most serious challenges to the modern business because companies are often come unprepared to operate in a multicultural environment or in a new cultural environment. At this point, it is possible to refer to the experience of many North American companies, which attempt to expand their business internationally and enter markets overseas. Often they have to operate in a totally different business environment, where cultural norms and traditions are totally different from American ones. For instance, South Korea is one of countries which have a huge economic potential and many North American companies attempt to develop their cooperation with South Korea, but they inevitably face a problem of significant cultural barriers because South Korean culture is totally different from North American one (Littlejohn, 2002). As a result, North American companies have to deal with a totally different philosophy of business which can be traced in different aspects of business communication and interaction between North American and South Korean companies and their representatives.

Cultural differences between South Korean business and North American one are very significant and these differences are determined by different traditions and norms of Koreans and Americans. At the same time, cultural norms and traditions influence substantially the communication process, which is crucial in the contemporary business environment. At this point, it is important to understand basic distinct feature of Korean and American cultures which define the difference in communication style of Koreans and Americans and their different business style.

First of all, American culture is traditionally highly individualistic. In actuality, this means that American employees are traditionally concerned with their individual success, professional career and development. The individualism of American culture contributes to the high competition between employees and strife of an individual success. At the same time, the high degree of individualism affects the communication of American employees since they get used to a democratic communication style, when interlocutors are treated as equal, regardless of their social status or position in the organizational hierarchy. Hence, American employees can disagree or argue with their managers, while managers cannot impose their will on their subordinates because it will evoke a strong opposition from the part of subordinates and decisions taken by managers regardless of the position of subordinates will not be implemented properly. Moreover, any attempt of American managers to ignore the position of employees will lead to internal conflicts within the organization.

In this regard, Korean culture is totally different. As a rule, the authority of a leader is unchallengeable in Korean companies and employees readily obey to and fulfil decisions taken by the leader or manager (Faust, 2000). At this point, it is worth mentioning the fact that a manager is a essentially a leader in a North Korean organization, while in an American organization being a manger does not necessarily mean being a leader or vice versa. In such a way, the role of the leader is determinant in the process of decision making and leader’s decisions are not argued by subordinates in Korean organizations.

As a result, there may be certain problems in the process of communication of American and Korean businessmen because decisions may be taken by Korean managers regardless of the position of employees, because Korean managers will be able to pass these decisions in their companies. In contrast, American managers often need consultation with their colleagues and subordinates to take the final decision. On the one hand, Korean style of decision making is more effective because it allows mangers to make decisions faster than American managers. On the other hand, it is necessary to understand the higher degree of responsibility of Korean mangers for taking decisions.

Therefore, they often need time to reflect on decisions they are going to take, while American managers can take consultations with their colleagues and subordinates and take the decision even faster than Korean managers. In addition, the decision taken by an American manager supported by his or her subordinates will be accepted by the personnel more readily than the decision taken by the Korean manager, if the personal has to obey to this decision but does not really accept it.

Furthermore, the difference between American and Korean businessmen and their communication style becomes obvious from the beginning of the communication. The greeting, a routine ritual, is an essential element of the communication and it is quite different in Korean and American cultures. Americans get used to handshakes as a normal form of greeting, while Koreans have certain prejudices in this regard. For instance, handshakes between men and women are still not widely spread in Korean culture and they are rather exceptional than normal. Furthermore, eye-contact during the greeting is very important in Korean culture. For instance, if people have a different social status or taking different position in the organizational hierarchy the long eye contact from a part of an individual taking a lower position, will be interpreted as a challenge and disrespect of the person who takes a higher position in the organizational hierarchy. At this point, Americans are less concerned with such details since greeting is a routine procedure, through which Americans do not attempt to emphasize the difference in the status or position within their organizations. Instead, greeting in American culture is the procedure in which both individuals are equal regardless of their gender, age, or status.

In fact, hierarchical roles are less significant in American culture, though there are certain rules which are normally respected in North America. For instance, a person who takes a higher position starts the conversation first. The same trend is typical for Korean culture but in the greeting and communication of people having a different hierarchical rank, a subordinate cannot have any initiative in the conversation, instead, since the greeting, the entire conversation is hold by an individual who has a higher rank in the organizational hierarchy.

The importance of the organizational hierarchy can be seen during the meeting, when Koreans are placed in accordance to their rank within the organization, while in American culture, such strict placement is not so widely spread, though there are certain traditions, which emphasize the heading role of the leader, who is traditionally plays the central part during the meeting. However, American culture admits arguments between people participating in the meeting, to the extent that people having a lower rank in the organizational hierarchy can disagree with people having a higher rank. Such a situation is absolutely unacceptable for Korean culture because, as it has been already mentioned above, the position of the leader is unchallengeable. In addition, the meeting is strictly regulated and Koreans are allowed to speak in accordance with their rank in the organization. In fact, people having lower ranks have the least possibility to influence decisions taken at meetings and, as a rule, they do not take an active part in meeting. Instead, they mainly support decisions which are taken by top executives. Hence, American meetings are consistently more democratic and focused on pluralism, while Korean meetings are more authoritarian.

On the other hand, it does not necessarily mean that decisions are taken spontaneously in Korean organizations. In fact, the belief that Korean leaders are absolutely free to act as they wish regardless of interests of the organization and employees is not absolutely correct. At the same time, it is important to understand that Koreans are less concerned with factual evidence, statistics and solid scientifically grounded justification of a decision to be taken, while for Americans, this is an essential condition of taking a correct decision (Bovee, 2005). To put it more precisely, Americans need to analyze in details the situation before taking a decision. The analysis is grounded on quantitative and qualitative assessments on the ground of which decisions are taken. In Korean culture, the role of statistics and quantitative data is not so significant, while faith and devotedness to the leader makes the process of decision-making in Korea more emotional. For instance, the decisions may be taken by Koreans not only on the ground of statistical analysis, but also because the leader believes the decision is to be correct.

Finally, it should be said that the difference between American and Korean culture can be traced not only in the field of verbal communication but also in the field of written communication. In fact, Korean business writing style is consistently more sophisticated than American one. Korean business writing needs to express the respect of a sender of a message or letter to the person who has to receive it. In addition, the business writing rarely contains direct demands or recommendations. Instead, the main message is rather implicit than clearly stated in Korean business writing. In stark contrast, American business writing is concrete, precise and clearly conveys basic points which a sender wants to covey to the recipient. Hence, Korean business writing style is more formal and, as a rule, longer compared to American one, which is less formal, shorter and concise.

Thus, taking into account all above mentioned, it is possible to conclude that the difference between American and South Korean culture is very substantial. Businessmen cannot ignore this cultural difference because it influences the functioning of organizations where people having a different cultural background work and in the relationships between South Korean and North American companies. At this point, it is important to remember about the difference in the communication, which have been discussed above, especially the difference in the view on the ranks in the organizational hierarchy, which is crucial for Koreans and ignorance of subordination can be extremely offensive for Koreans. Finally, in order to conduct business successfully, it is important to develop a new communication and business style to meet cultural traditions and norms of representatives of other cultures.

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