Are meetings in Mexico pure chaos?

Like his counterparts around the world, a Mexican manager has a calendar full of meetings. Of course, the point of these meetings is to discuss and promote projects, to share information or make decisions. However, these are not the sole purposes of a meeting in Mexico.

Relationships matter

Building relationships and trust, cultivating contacts and exchanging ideas are equally important. Meetings are also perceived as a good opportunity to present oneself. It’s all about convincing the others through eloquence and charisma. A presentation with many facts and figures, however, is rather counterproductive.

Especially when it comes to a first project meeting, relationship building and building trust are the clear priorities. Mexicans will therefore speak only little about the concrete shape of future cooperations, but more about general principles, the history of the company or future visions.

Try to act in a similar way and do not present any detailed planning or even written cooperation agreements, even if you already have a draft version in the bag. That would give your Mexican counterparts the impression that you do not want to take their views into account and only focus on a speedy business deal.

Who is present?

In Mexican companies, hierarchy is very important and decisions are made by either the owner or a small group of managers. Therefore, the participants of a meeting or presentation will give you an idea of what the purpose of the meeting or presentation is. If participants of different hierarchy levels are present, it will probably be more about the passing on of information and instructions.

If you have a meeting with top management or even with the company owner alone, then strategically important issues and decisions are up for discussion.

Who is late?

If a meeting with Mexican partners or colleagues is scheduled, you should be prepared for it not to start on time. Starting 20 to 30 minutes late is perfectly normal for Mexicans. Don’t get upset. That would be completely inappropriate. Use the time to engage in small talk, make phone calls, check your emails and make sure to avoid any hint of impatience. And don’t expect any apologies or explanations either.

Business people from countries that attach great importance to punctuality may be tempted to simply be late themselves in order to shorten the possible waiting time. However, this can come with nasty surprises. After all, people from Germany, Austria and Switzerland in particular have the reputation of being on time in Mexico. This can in turn prompt your Mexican counterparts to be there in time. They would see it as a great insult if you arrived too late because you thought it was normal in Mexico.

No agenda = chaos?

Many international business people have the impression that meetings in Mexico are completely chaotic. There may be an agenda, but its points are discussed in an unstructured way. Topics may also be addressed that are not on the agenda at all.

Mexicans believe that issues that are currently acute should be addressed immediately, and not much later, when the item is on the agenda. You should react flexibly to this.

If you feel that you‘re getting lost in the “chaos”, try taking notes on the different topics or check off what has already been discussed. This may help to give you back some of the structure you miss.

Lack of competence?

Mexican participants often appear to be unprepared or cannot comment on individual points in detail. Of course, it may be that your business partners are unprepared. But often this impression arises because of a different communication pattern.

In countries that use a direct communication style, the focus of a meeting is often on facts and figures. Mexicans, on the other hand, communicate indirectly and often use subjunctive language; instead of getting to the point quickly, Mexicans often hint at things. As a result, it is not always clear what their position is.

Approximate numbers are often sufficient and a little mistake is easily forgiven. If somebody demonstrates improvisational talent in a conversation or in a presentation, it is a very positive trait for Mexicans and not a sign of lack of preparation and planning!

Ignore disruptions

The impression of general confusion during a meeting is reinforced by the fact that Mexicans often speak simultaneously. It is also common that mobile phones are ringing, short conversations on the side are being made, or someone is walking in and out of the meeting room.

Present eloquently

As you might expect from how meetings typically proceed, the focus of a presentation in Mexico is not exclusively on communicating facts, figures and data.

A presenter is competent if he involves the audience emotionally. Convince by eloquence, a pictorial language and infectious enthusiasm for your topic. Answer any questions that arise immediately and not at the end of your presentation.

Do not be irritated if Mexicans do something else during your talk. Doing several things at the same time is common in Mexico and no disapproval or criticism of your presentation.

Asking questions

If you listen to a Mexican presentation or talk, the speaker will appreciate it when you ask questions. However, restrain from pointing out mistakes or inconsistencies. Through criticism in front of others, the presenter and you yourself will lose face. Your relationship will suffer and the other participants will also disapprove of your critical words.

Better talk to the presenter in private and wrap up your criticism. Say for example: ‘I’m not sure if I understood … correctly, but …’ or ‘I’m not quite sure how …’ rather than anything like ‘How you want to solve the problem is absolutely impossible.’

Alexandra Metzger

+49 (0)711 722 468 44
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