#122 How (not) to say sorry in Chinese
This month at an event in Shijiazhuang, Hebei Province, China, 23 Samsung executives kneeled on stage in front of a room full of Chinese distributors. They had the best intentions of apologizing to their trusted Chinese partners for the recent Galaxy Note 7 disaster. However, immediately after the event the Chinese social media space blew up. It turned out that what was meant as a humble gesture had backfired. Apparently, Korean and Chinese customs are very different when it comes to kneeling. While it is within the limits of normal practice in Korea, kneeling is considered a feudal practice in China and is reserved for very limited occasions. Many people in the room felt embarrassed by the executives’ behavior. They thought that Samsung forced their executives into this apology and were shocked to witness how the company treated their employees. This should not only be a good lesson to Samsung, but also to many people in the West who think that all Asian cultures are alike. While both China and Korea may share a strong feeling of collective responsibility, the way they express it is very different.
November 30, 2016 @ 7:37 pm
From my point of view, it is very important for a global company like Samsung to know about the importance of cultural differences. So, if we have a look on the Hofstede’s dimensions, we can see a huge difference in Masculinity (Korea 39 /China 66) and Uncertainty Avoidance (Korea 85/ China 30) between these two cultures, cause not so much on Individualism and Power Distance. China and Korea have a highly collectivist culture where people act in the interests of the group and not necessarily of themselves. For the Koreans kneeling means begging for help or mercy when they are desperate or have done something very wrong. It is degrading for other communities but not for Koreans for them means being humble.
You could also good recognize the behavior of Korean people, if you like to get a bus in Korea, so Korean people stand in line to wait for the bus. If the bus driver feels that the bus will become over crowded, the bus driver will kindly request the other passengers to wait for the next one. In Korea no one would push you or push in to get onto the bus, it never become full that no one is able to breathe. In China for comparison, crowding people are waiting for the bus, a crush will then form and elbows will be employed.
Cause back to the story…a Chinese will kneel before a god to beg for a blessing or express his or her gratitude to the god for a wish that has been fulfilled. Therefore, it is comprehensible that the Chinese social media messages blew up. If you look on the web, you’ll find a lot of different articles about that occurrence. I would also have a bad feeling, when a group of persons will kneel in front of me. I would feel a bit sheepish about that. With that example, you can see the disadvantage for a such a big company, if you do not know the cultural difference. This is a happening, Samsung will never forget.
December 4, 2016 @ 10:32 am
Personally, I am quite astonished about the outcome and interpretation of the situation in Shijiazhuang. As according to Hofstede’s “Six Cultural Dimensions” South Korea seems to be the more feminine culture of the two, in which people would feel sorry for the executives being forced into such a behaviour and not the Chinese. In addition, the Chinese would appear to appreciate such an apology as their power distance and masculinity levels are much higher than the South Korean ones. From a Korean point of view, it probably seemed the best way of apologising to the Chinese and show their great remorse as hierarchy and knowing your place is important in both cultures but even more so in China. On the other hand, one can understand that the Chinese were offended if the apology was over the top and had therefore lost all its authenticity.
I believe the biggest issue in all international business relationships is the lack of understanding the other culture. The only way to bypass this problem is to work with and cultural insider at all times. Someone who is an expert in business relations of the particular country and can help your company to avoid getting into such an unpleasant situation in the first place. Asian countries might seem similar to each other from an European or Western point of view but when we think how different the cultural dimensions between Austria and Germany are – one can imagine how different the many Asian cultures might be. This shows the example of China vs. Korea in the Samsung matter very well. This should definitely make international companies think about the high importance of cultural aspects in international businesses and how much relies on the appropriate behaviour.
December 27, 2016 @ 3:11 pm
In my opinion each company, small and big ones, has to inform themselve about the cultural differences otherwise such big mistakes as by the Korean company Samsung will happen if you don’t consider it’s importance!
In this case it’s always good to compare the countries with Hofstede’s dimensions for a good overview of the differences.
The biggest difference between Korea and China is the dimension Uncertainty Avoidance (Kore 85; China 30). Also the Masculinity (Korea 39; China 66) and the Power Distance (Korea 60; China 80) shows big differences. Only the dimension Individualism is nearly the same (Korea 18; China 20).
Uncertainty Avoidance: China has a low score on Uncertainty Avoidance. None the less, adherence to laws and rules may be flexible to suit the actual situation and pragmatism is a fact of life. The Chinese are comfortable with ambiguity. Chinese are adaptable and entrepreneurial.
Individualism: By both cultures the group thinking has priority because both have a highly collectivist culture. Whereas relationships with colleagues are cooperative for in-groups they are cold or even hostile to out-groups. Personal relationships prevail over task and company.
Power Distance: China is a society that believes that inequalities amongst people are acceptable. The subordinate-superior relationship tends to be polarized and there is no defense against power abuse by superiors. Individuals are influenced by formal authority and sanctions and are in general optimistic about people’s capacity for leadership and initiative. People should not have aspirations beyond their rank.
Masculinity: China is a Masculine society –success oriented and driven. The need to ensure success can be exemplified by the fact that many Chinese will sacrifice family and leisure priorities to work.
From my point of view, especially in such criticial business-situations you have to consider the cultural differences well! If you have a long-time business relationship it’s necessary to know and follow the culture.otherwise it would be impolite and the consequences will be bad. In this case, Korea didn’t deal well enough with the Chinese culture and so this story would have blewed up the Chinese newspapers and social media sites.
December 29, 2016 @ 12:15 pm
From my point of view, both sides, the korean and the chinese, should be open and aware of cultural differences. The Korean executives should have informed themselfes whether kneeling is a adequade gesture to demonstrate an apology or not. On the other side, the Chinese distributors should not feel ashamed and, especially because these two cultures (and countries) are very close to each other, understand how this gesture was ment.
For us in the west, this example demonstrates perfectly that even when two cultures seem almost identical on the first sight (the only big difference is the uncertainty avoidance), small differences can have a huge impact on business relations. To avoid incidents like this, it is essential to brief executives how to behave in certain situations and also how to react to cultural uncommon behavior of the opponent.
December 30, 2016 @ 10:46 am
In my opinion a global venture such as Samsung must clarify the cultural differences in advance. This of course also applies to small businesses. If you consider the cultural differences, it shows professionalism and you can avoid such situations.
The dimensions of Hofstede shows that China differs significantly from Korea in Uncertainty Avoidance (China 30/ Korea 85) and Masculinity (China 66/ Korea 39). China has a low score of Uncertainty Avoidance. Compliance with rules as well as laws is handled flexibly and Chinese people are adaptable as well as entrepreneurial. On the fact that Chinese people sacrifice a lot of leisure and time for the family for success shows that it is a very Masculine country. A smaller difference to China is in the Power Distance (China 80/ Korea 60). This means that they accept inequalities among the population and individuals are influenced by formal authority and sanctions. China and Korea have a highly collectivist culture where people act in the interests of the group and not of themselves.
From my point of view every company should consider the international cultural aspects. Especially if you deal with successful business realtions. Unfortunately many companies make the mistake and do not inform themselves well in advance. As we can see on the example of Samsung it can have huge negative consequences for the company. Because kneeling have a different meaning in China than in Korea and therefore the occurrence spreaded fast through newspapers and social media channels.
June 11, 2017 @ 5:31 pm
I think this contribution is a very good example to demonstrate the differences of two cultures, even if you think that they are very similar. In my opinion Samsung should have informed themselves in advance how the gesture of kneeling on stage in front of a room full of Chinese distributors is understood by the Chinese people.
When you’ll have a look at the Hofstede’s Dimensions of Culture you’ll find out that there are many differences between the Chinese and the Korean culture especially in the Uncertainty Avoidance, the Masculinity as well as the Power Distance. The only dimension where the two cultures are nearly the same is the individualism.
To sum up I think it is extremely necessary to inform yourself about the differences between the cultures, especially if you have long-term business relationships with them. It is important to know how you have to treat them, what they appreciate and what they don’t like.
June 16, 2017 @ 1:58 pm
From my point of view, it is very essential that each company have to collect information about the cultural differences.
This is a good example to demonstrate the differences of two cultures, even if you think that they are very similar. Small differences can have a huge impact on business relations and therefore it is crucial to look for executives how to behave in certain circumstances and how you should react in these situations. The dimensions of Hofstede represents that there a differences between China and Korea, especially in the Power Distance, the Masculinity and the Uncertainty Avoidance.
However, in my opinion, every company should think about the international cultural aspects, especially if you deal with such critical business-situations!
June 22, 2017 @ 1:43 pm
This article shows how different cultures can be. To my mind, a global company like Samsung should have informed themselves about the Chinese culture before they go for a business meeting with their Chinese partners. They thought that all Asian countries have the same culture and therefore all gestures, words, symbols and colours have the same meaning. A big mistake! So, keep in mind that you prepare and inform yourself before you make a journey or you get in touch with business partners from other countries. Don’t simply trust on prejudices and statements of others. There is no country and culture similar to one another. Preparing prevents you from making mistakes ok making a fool of oneself.
June 27, 2017 @ 4:06 pm
From my point of view, it is very essential that each company have to collect information about the cultural differences. This is a good example to demonstrate the differences of two cultures, even if you think that they are very similar. Small differences can have a huge impact on business relations and therefore it is crucial to look for executives how to behave in certain circumstances and how you should react in these
situations. The dimensions of Hofstede represents that there a differences between China and Korea
especially in the Power Distance, the Masculinity and the Uncertainty Avoidance.
However, in my opinion, every company should think about the international cultural aspects, especially if you deal with such critical business-situations!
June 27, 2017 @ 4:08 pm
This blog entry makes clear that cultures are very different and that you really take care about it, because otherwise it could be very dangerous for the company. In that case Samsung made a big mistake, because they thought that all Asian cultures are the same. In my opinion it’s very important to avoid such misunderstandings, especially if you are a big global company, because that seems very unprofessional.
Concerning the six cultural dimensions of Hofstede you can see that there are some diffferences between Korea and China especially in the Dimension masculinity and uncertainty avoidance.
So it’s essential to inform you and prepare you about the other culture before you meet them. Preparation is the key to success. Because you just can be successful if you know what the company don’t like and what’s naturally for them.
June 29, 2017 @ 10:46 am
Samsung, a leading global company, should be able to avoid such mistakes. For a global company like Samsung it is very important to know the characteristics of cultural differences.
Maybe Samsung should take a look on Hofstede´s “six cultural dimensions”. If you compare South Korea to China, you will recognize to points with big differences. First, the “Uncertainty Avoidance” (Korea 85/China 30), and second, the “Masculinity” (Korea 39/China 66). The only dimension in which South Korea and China have nearly the same value is “Individualism” (Korea 18/China 20).
Especially in long-term business relationship and for companies like Samsung, it is beyond comprehension that this intercultural mistake happened. Today, like in the case of Samsung, Social Media is just waiting for such failures, and in my opinion, Samsung will never forget this embarrassing, nonetheless avoidable situation.
July 6, 2017 @ 12:00 pm
From my point of view, every company, no matter if it is a big or a small one, must clarify the cultural differences of each country. Preparation in advance shows professionalism and especially for global companies, such as Samsung, it is very important.
For the Korean executives it seemed the best way for apologising to the Chinese, because it is a normal practice for them. But it is also understandable that the Chinese people felt embarrassed, because they are only kneeling on the ground when they are praying or as a mark of respect to elders.
Such issues arise through the lack of understanding or information of the other foreign culture. The only way to avoid such problems is to work with a cultural insider. Through that, the company gets insides and know how to treat people and to act in business.
Even though a country, in this case Asian countries, might seem similar to each other, but there are differences. The Hofstede’s dimensions are showing the differences between Korea and China, especially by the scores Power Distance, Masculinity and Uncertainty Avoidance. Therefore, every company has to think in advance about the importance of cultural aspects and different behaviour.
July 9, 2017 @ 7:14 pm
This blog post is a good example to demonstrate the differences of two cultures.
For the Korean executives it seemed the best way of apologizing to the Chinese, but for the Chinese kneeling has a different meaning. Therefore, the occurrence spread fast through social media and had negative consequences for the company.
In my opinion, such issues arise through the lack of information or understanding of the other culture. Therefore, companies should work together with a cultural insider, who helps the company to act with their business partners abroad in the right way, to avoid such problems. Furthermore, preparation about foreign cultural differences and different behavior in advance is essential for global companies, like Samsung, to be successful in business. It is vital that every company should clarify the differences of each country, because there is no country and culture similar to one another.
Even though, Asian countries might seem similar to European or Western countries on the first sight, but there are differences. In this case, the Hofstede’s dimensions are showing that there are differences between Korea and China, especially in the Power Distance, the Masculinity and the Uncertainty Avoidance. Therefore, every company, no matter if it is a big or a small one, should think about the importance of international cultural aspects and different behavior.
July 11, 2017 @ 11:04 am
In my opinion, this is not really supposed to happen. Of course there are differences within almost every culture and especially at an executive level, people should be aware of that. Asian countries might seem similar, but if you just compare them to Europe for example, they also are very old and traditional and were obviously not that connected as today. I would recommend that at least the sales and marketing, as well as the executiones should at least study their target markets and the cultural differences – just think about Hofstedes dimensions – to get a better understanding and relationship with their key customers. If they dont want to do that, then they should at least hire people who are conversant with these things.
July 13, 2017 @ 8:51 pm
I know the complexity of the different behaviors and gestures in the Asian countries because of my own experience very well. Due to the fact I traveled to a few different countries in Asia on my own I had some struggles with it too. Especially as European it is hard to figure out the often small but important differences. After you made a mistake the Asians often to not show that you have done something incorrect because they want to act polite. But when you realize you have done something wrong it is often too late. Only careful preparation can counteract against this effect.
July 4, 2018 @ 9:27 pm
It surprises me and teaches me a lot as well. It could be assumed, that countries which are located close to each other, have a quite common understanding of gestures. Obviously, it is not that simple.
With the support of Hofstede´s Dimensions of Culture, it has revealed that both countries score low on individualism. A “We” consciousness and an emotional dependence from the company makes it more credible that Samsung´s executives were not forced to this gesture and was meant truthfully.
On the other hand, employees in China are used that their bosses are seen as making decisions autocratically and they fear to disagree with them. Maybe this is a reason why they didn´t believe that the kneeling was the intention of the present Korean executives.
But Samsung has not to worry about that for a long time–Korea and China score high on long term orientation. According to that, they will continue to a strong relationship further on.
April 2, 2020 @ 10:59 am
This is a perfect example to reflect Hofstede’s cultural dimensions. If companies want to go global or even if they are still internationally operating, the culture of each specific country can vary strongly. Although the distance between Korea and China is relatively close in regard of international businesses, cultural differences can be tremendous and crucial whether to succeed in this market or not. Moreover, this example highlights the importance of a professional and profound market research.
Even if a company has its corporate readiness, a perfect product readiness and target market selection, and of course the perfect selection of market entry mode, the overall approach can fail due to a lack of cultural awareness. Although our world is transforming to a multi-cultural society due to globalization and digitalization, the core values and traditions are linked to the native culture and principles and will be as they are. People are proud of their culture and traditions and want to live them out. If you do not understand them, you might be good in the short-term through a huge effort of resources and money, but you will never sustain in the long-term. In conclusion, you should never assume that the way you do your business in one country can easily be transferred to other ones with a different culture. Always remember: Different strokes for different folks!
January 8, 2022 @ 8:50 am
The event in Shijiazhuang, which 23 Samsung executives kneeled on stage in front of a room full of Chinese distributors, was for apologizing to the Chinese partners. However, the result was not good. It made Samsung’s reputation become worse. kneel is a normal action for Korea to apologize, but it is not a good method for Chinese. This should not only be a good lesson to Samsung, but also to many people in the West who think that all Asian cultures are alike. Especially, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean cultures are very similar. In Tang Dynasty, Korean and Japanese went to China, learned the Chinese culture, and brought the Chinese culture into their owned culture. However, through the more than 1000-year development, the three countries’ cultures have a lot of similar aspects, but also, they have a lot of different factors. Japanese do not like purple, because they think purple is a sad hue. However, Chinese do like the color, because they think purple is elegant. Both Chinese and Japanese do not like green, but the reason is different. Japanese think green is ominous, but Chinese think green is not friendly for male. Asian cultures are similar, but not same. Therefore, for all the multinational companies, it is very significant to understand the differences of the Asian cultures.
January 12, 2022 @ 7:29 am
This is a really interesting case of cross-cultural conflict. I’m Japanese, but I was surprised that Korea has a kneeling culture. Even in Japan, it’s a very deep apology gesture, somewhat feudal as this article is written. Even if we do the same thing in Japan now, it will be a social problem. I thought Japan and South Korea were culturally similar, but I learned from this case that there are conflicts in any culture that even seems to be close. It is necessary to recognize that the environment in which people live in each culture is a little different area by area.
In my opinion, it is almost impossible to fully understand a different culture. In this case, Koreans (Samsung people) were unaware of how they differed from the customs of other countries. This is very natural. Therefore, if it is an important issue, you may need to ask the locals for their views on culture.