South Koreans will prepare well for negotiations and research all details about your company and your products in advance. Do the same and collect sufficient information about your negotiating partners. Your negotiation should be focused on a win-win situation that reflects a good balance between both sides.
Basically, South Koreans are tough negotiators. However, Gibun is placed above everything else, i.e. harmony and mutual respect between the negotiating partners is of utmost importance. This means that the interpersonal relationship must always be harmonious, even if there is no agreement in sight.
That is why you will never get an outright “no” in South Korea; it disturbs the harmony to confront or expose the other person with a negative attitude. It is better to agree initially and then let the matter fade away later. Ask questions that are as open as possible in order to obtain the most informative statements possible from the outset.
Also, pay attention to evasive phrases. If you get “Tzs… yeessss. We’ll see” as a reply, you can basically take this to mean “Unfortunately, this is not possible”, especially if your negotiating partner stretches out the spoken words or draws air through his teeth. South Koreans are trained from an early age to give out and understand such para- and non-verbal signals.
Gibun basically commands South Koreans to avoid any confrontation. This results in unclear statements, frequent changes of the topic or long silences in order to avoid potential disagreements. The discussions usually take place in a circular manner. Discussions usually take place in a circular manner. Individual topics are dropped repeatedly to be picked up again at a later time as the talks turn to another subject as soon as disagreements arise. The more you can reach an agreement in one area, the easier it will be to approach more difficult questions in another area. The only way you can slowly get closer to resolving a difference of opinion in South Korea is by finding common ground. Only by setting out common negotiating goals can you slowly move closer to an agreement in South Korea. Putting pressure on your South Korean partners or even openly showing anger and dissatisfaction is an absolute taboo.
Remember: Negotiating in a relationship friendly manner should always be your highest priority in South Korea.
At the end of a negotiation, you should not expect to have reached a final decision and should not insist upon one either. Your South Korean partners will withdraw and discuss the negotiated offer further internally. Ultimately, the authority to decide lies with the highest-ranking manager, who will inform you in due course. Patience is your top priority here.
Once an agreement has been reached, a written contract will be drawn up. However, these may have a lower degree of obligation than you would expect. Contractual agreements are not set in stone but can be subsequently modified should external circumstances make it necessary.
This is why the personal relationship between business partners is so important. Success can only be achieved if everyone works together. South Koreans believe that what is written in the agreement is of no use should the situation change.
This flexibility of thinking allows South Koreans to react very quickly to changes in circumstances and they often cannot understand why someone is determined to stick to a contract concluded months or years ago under different circumstances.
In case of conflict
If there is a real conflict, it is therefore not advisable to threaten legal action right away. Instead, start at the relationship level and look for similarities. Alternatively, call in an intermediary who knows both parties well and can moderate the discussions. To insist on contractual obligations, that you are in the right and that the South Korean side is guilty of misconduct, however, will only lead to one thing: the termination of the business relationship. Business cooperation is just not possible in South Korea purely on the basis of contractual agreements.