Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Korea Perspective: Chapter 3 Place, no two equal

Before sharing a sneak peak of Chapter 3 Place, no two equalsome recent feedback on last week’s posting. 

Hi Don,

This is very fascinating.

In my personal studies with Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk, he often uses the term “inter-being” to highlight our collective interconnection with everything.

In my workplace and personal interactions with both Eastern and Western cultures, I have also witnessed the inherent conflict between collectivism and independence. There are quite a few jokes in Western circles around the “efficiency” of committees. In fact, most of the stated perspective about collaborative decisions is one of weakness and delay.
I wonder, then, how these different perspectives have been able to inter-operate as well as they have.
Will (or does?) your book include examples of successful inter-actions?


Chapter 3   Place, or  no two equal

As noted in Chapter 1, innerconnectiveness or oneness is foundational and overarching in the Korean workplace. Norms and practices that may appear as routine and day-to-day are rooted in the concept. This chapter looks at “Place” within the social matrix. Introduction “meet and greets,” the sharing of business cards and a person’s company title are visible examples of Place in the workplace.

Broadly speaking, within the Korea workplace and society everyone occupies a position—a few individuals at the top, some in the middle and others in bottom tier.  No two individuals ever share the same status within this social stratification.

Within this paradigm and from a cross-cultural perspective Korea is seen as a high Power Distance society. This means there are substantial gaps between those in middle and lower ranks and those at the top. Still in contrast to the West’s “Us and Them,” in Korea all are seen inclusive and part of the same connected framework.

Introductions, business cards and company titles serve as useful tools in better determining and fine tuning place in the matrix for Koreans who share a common culture and heritage. For example, when two Koreans meet for the first time a polite greeting is followed by the exchange of business cards. The role of the business card is to provide the person’s title as well their company affiliations—again as with individuals, no two companies ranked the same. That said, considerable significance is given to Fortune 500 firms and/ or global brands, such as Apple, Cisco, Samsung, or Hyundai. For academics, public sector officials and professionals the business card provides the same function by highlighting if the person is a Ph.D., Consular General, MD or graduate student.  Additionally, the business card provides information about associations with a well-known university, government agency or hospital. Together the company or institutional affiliation and title provide a means of positioning a person within a workplace hierarchy.

Next both parties in an introduction commonly face a litany of questions beginning with the middle and high schools they attended their college education, marital status, number of children along with other inquiries that a Westerner may consider personal, such as church or religious affiliations. If a third party is present for the introductions, that person, too, might add to this conversation, embellishing each person’s life accomplishments and status whenever possible. 

Combined with non-verbal clues, dress and appearance, one’s employment, title and education, all come into play in internalizing the placement of that person within society—again, while still considering each individual as a part of the greater whole. Once this place is determined, the new acquaintances will also then follow norms for interacting and communicating in business and day-to-day matters.

“Part 2” of this article will look at these hierarchical and status driven interactions and communication norms, a number of which differ from the West and can dramatically impact the overseas workplace.


BCW 2014

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