Cultural Differences – Mexico

Compared to the lively Brazilians, Mexicans are more serious and reserved. However, your Mexican business partners will receive you with the same great friendliness and openness that you are used to in other South American countries. Once a conversation has started, Mexicans get going fast. Wild gestures and loud laughter are simply part of good conversation. This very friendly approach is usually underlined by a certain amount of physical contact, which can make people from other cultures uncomfortable, because of their greater sense of social distance. The temptation to step back can be strong, but stay engaged as much as possible. Distancing yourself physically only signals one thing to the other: mistrust.

Harmony and friendliness

What matters most in Mexican business culture is a harmonious relationship between business partners. For a joint project with Mexicans, a solid personal connection should be established first, as small talk overcomes existing barriers. The subject of business itself is never broached in the beginning. Having a friendly attitude – and a good negotiating style – is always good. Mexicans usually invite their business partners to a meal. A sociable lunch can last until late in the afternoon, so be prepared to spend a lot of time – not only for enjoying a 5-course meal, but also for entertaining and informal conversations. Usually, official welcome speeches are given, which you should gratefully accept as a guest and reciprocate.

It is critical to cultivate personal relationships. Mexicans, like their South American neighbors, only do business with friends. Good personal relationships between participants are always of greater importance than the project itself. Their loyalty is always to a person and not to the company itself.

Avoid confrontations

Friendliness is a top priority in negotiations or in dealing with Mexicans. Direct criticism is taboo. Conflicts and confrontations are avoided. Mexicans will not offer a clear indication that something is not likely to be forthcoming, and will not address such issues directly. The risk of losing face or injured honor would be too great. Should you still directly address a problem the Mexicans will attempt to sweep it under the rug. If you persist in a discussion, this is perceived as very arrogant and can quickly end negotiations.

Only the here and now counts

Time allotted for travel and meeting plans should be padded generously in Mexico – not only because of the high volume of traffic and the long travel times in Mexico City. The meetings themselves take much longer than you may be used to. Mexicans feel a great need for explanation. Each point is discussed and reviewed in detail. In addition, they live strictly in the present. Meetings can go on indefinitely, regardless of what is on the agenda. Later appointments and obligations are meaningless for now. If one can get to them, great, but if they can’t, that’s ok. What matters is the here and now. Therefore, it would be extremely rude in Mexico to look impatiently at the clock during a meeting or even break off the meeting to get to another appointment.

This is also noticeable in project work. Mexicans have little use for detailed schedules. Deadline pressure does not work. If a problem arises, solutions may be attempted on the fly. Long-term planning of individual steps is not a priority in Mexican business culture.

Strict hierarchies

Mexican companies are based on strict hierarchies. The decision makers are generally only to be found at the highest level. Corporate leaders have a personal power that they must visibly exercise. This hierarchical thinking is accompanied by little sense of responsibility on the part of employees for their own job. You are likely to wait in vain for sequential instructions and tasks. Teamwork is rather unusual in Mexican companies.

Therefore, in Mexico, business negotiations can only be conducted personally at the highest ranks, who will only accept a someone of the same hierarchical level – even if project management responsibility lies with a technically qualified project team. In addition, you may be dealing with partners with very high social standing. This can complicate the cooperation in that Mexican managers have almost unlimited powers and are therefore not used to agreeing with others or accepting conflicting opinions.

If you get involved in a close friendship in Mexico, try to be open and learn to enjoy eating together for maximum professional cooperation. With a little serenity and confidence in Mexicans’ talent for improvisation, you will learn to have confidence in their project work and in your ability to work together well.

Katrin Koll Prakoonwit

+49 (0)711 722 468 44
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