Tuesday, January 3, 2012

"No" Does Not Exist

In a recent post at Korea Business Central, Koreans' preference for indirectness (to say it kindly) when negative was addressed here: http://www.koreabusinesscentral.com/forum/topics/korea-business-advisor-seoul-magazine-four-principles-to-understa.

I find it a very helpful post, especially if one is new here. This is one of those pieces of advice I heard originally but took me years (e.g., until now) to heed.

Why? And what does that mean?

Well, first, it's counterintuitive. I am not known for being subtle in my home (American litigator = brutally direct) culture, because of a deeply-seated (if borderline irrational) belief absolute directness is best and most honest.

But this year, I understood. And understanding involved me realizing how many asterisks my approach was putting in my Korean dialogues.

What? Let me explain. Korean indirectness works like this:

1) Assume you are not an a** h****.
2) Assume the word "no" does not exist in your vocabulary, or at best, is equivalent to "f*** no that will never f***ing happen how could you even f***ing ask me for that you moron."

That's a lot of asterisks. Let them sink in, like the steam from the sauna. Because really, that is saying "no" in Korea.

So you're going to say "no" to your best friends and people you really, really hate. Everyone else gets it softened. "It doesn't seem okay" is a "maybe (slim hope)" back home but here it's a 110% no that you probably won't even be lucky enough to hear (bad news is not often delivered). "They are thinking" more than once means they decided, and you are asterisk-ed.

Point 3 on Steven's post (and his link to korea4expats) explains more fully: Because a "100% yes" is often a 1% yes at most, yes means no.

So if there is hope, you get a yes. If not, you get a later/maybe/I've gotta ask. Really it's the same back home, just adjust the numbers. "I've gotta ask" more than two times means complete incompetence or no chance. "Later" more than a few times means never (picture an attractive mate you ask on a date). Even "Of course" followed by "but something happened" is a social cue, and one we do not press. So why press it here?

For the reasons on why not, see my Jan 3 2012 post on face...

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