Polite and cordial: communication in Mexico

For Mexicans, politeness and the manners involved are extremely important, as it is also crucial for a first impression in Western European countries. However, to a Western European, Mexican manners may appear to sometimes border on subservience; however, do not make the mistake of thinking that your new business associates are subordinate to you. Mexicans are very status-oriented and pay close attention to whether they are treated according to their status.

You also make a good impression when you often express gratitude and offer praise and compliments. You’ll have no trouble finding occasions to do so: they may have picked you up from the airport, organized everything well for you, treated you to tasty Mexican food, or shown you their beautiful country.

Expressive and emotional

The Mexican style of communication is expressive and emotional and it’s perfectly acceptable to give free rein to positive emotions in a business setting. You may interrupt in a conversation without giving offence, speak at the same time or touch the other on the wrist, upper arm or pat on his back. Silence is unpleasant for Mexicans. Visitors may perceive this kind of communication as (too) lively and loud. Gestures and facial expressions enrich the expression of their opinions, though it may seem exaggerated to foreigners.

Compared to a person that communicates so vividly, Western European restraint can seem boring and monotonous. Although it may seem polite to wait for a break in the conversation before speaking, you may be waiting for a long time. You’ll need to assert yourself and speak up or you will spend a lot of time being silent. Too much silence at a meeting or at dinner will come across as arrogance, disinterest, or incompetence. So jump in!

You’ll never hear a direct no

Despite their expressive nature, Mexicans can maintain an extremely indirect communication style out of respect and in the spirit of relationship building. It is very rare for them to say no or express criticism or rejection. Rather, Mexicans are more likely to respond with an explanation if they mean no, for example, say: “Lo que pasa es que …” or just “Es que …” followed by an explanation.

You may feel an urge to try to pin down Mexicans for a yes or a no, but be careful because your Mexican partner may find this embarrassing. He would lose face, which will in turn jeopardize mutual trust!

Differentiating between consent and rejection

Mexicans use many conjunctives and filler words, such as ‘maybe’ out of courtesy – not out of uncertainty! It may seem to you that they are beating around the bush, which can contribute to potential misunderstandings.

What do you think when you hear, ‘This is not that easy’ or ‘I’ll take a look at it again’? You might think you hear a conditional approval rather than a rejection. Your Mexican partner may have indeed expressed a rejection, but in a way that is polite and not directly negative or confrontational. When assessing a Mexican statement, you should always consider context.

Tomorrow – or even later

A typical misunderstanding is the proverbial ‘mañana’, literally translated as ‘tomorrow’. If someone promises to complete a task soon, but at the same time you know that the person still has a long meeting ahead and then wants to leave for home right away for a birthday party, you can assume that the task will probably be done a bit later rather than not at all. ‘Mañana’ has many meanings for Mexicans.

Of course, they could actually mean “tomorrow”. However, depending on the context, the meaning can also be “soon,” “in the near future,” “not now,” or sometimes even “not at all.”

Only imply criticism and be sure to soften it

Directly criticizing a business partner, colleague or employee, especially in front of a group, is taboo. It does not matter whether the criticism is justified or how clearly it is communicated.

Of course, criticism has a place in Mexico, but you should always be mindful of hierarchies. A supervisor may criticize his coworker, but a colleague does not criticize his peers, and an employee especially does not criticize his boss.

In Mexico, it is usually enough to express hints, and expect that they will be understood. It is also important to include positive comments to make it clear that you value the other person and find his work competent.

Alexandra Metzger

+49 (0)711 722 468 44
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