Tip 1: Be helpful and welcoming! The US-American culture has been shaped by values like helpfulness and hospitality. For the American pioneers those values were essential for survival – and are still expected today. Like long ago US-Americans consider it as extremely important to be neighborly. This includes for example to pop in or call […]
The office atmosphere in Mexico may be very different than what you would expect in your own country. You’ll often encounter open-plan offices surrounded by supervisors’ offices, which may have doors and large windows that look out on the open space. With so many people on a single large, open space, it’s often a lot louder in Mexican offices with phones ringing and people talking. That alone may seem chaotic and confusing to foreign visitors.
Mexicans work “polychron”
This visual and acoustic environment is intensified by the Mexican working style, which can seem unstructured. In reality, Mexicans merely shape their daily work differently. Of course they keep an appointment calendar, though it may have a loose structure. It provides clues for the course of the working day, but is not viewed as rigid or unchangeable.
The approach to appointments, meetings and projects is polychronic in Mexico. This means that tasks are not necessarily processed in sequence – one after the other – but in parallel. Think of it as juggling. To devote oneself to a single task or to just one person is not the norm. Therefore, you may find yourself sitting in a meeting with someone who keeps answering the phone, or you may be interrupted by an employee bringing in something that needs signing, or just stopping by to say hello.
This shared attention to many things can be confusing, and even may seem inconsiderate or rude for your Mexican project partner to behave that way. After all, you have a scheduled meeting with him and expect him to give you his full attention and time. From a Mexican point of view, however, it would be rude to not respond to a business partner who would like to say hello, or to not answer the phone.
Since Mexicans devote their attention to several tasks at the same time, there is always the danger that deliverables that aren’t perceived as urgent could fall through the cracks. So, how do you convey this to your Mexican partners and colleagues?
Do not assume that something agreed today for the coming week will happen, even if you’ve set an exact deadline. Merely check in later in the week. Communicate indirectly by offering your support or by thanking your contact in advance for his help.
If you happen to bump into the project leader, you may briefly hint at how important the matter is to you. Through frequent contact, your Mexican partner feels important, valued and respected, which is always good for task completion.
There are also a few language tricks. For example, diminutive word forms. The word “ahora” (“now”) covers a very large span of time for Mexicans. “Ahorita” or “ahoritita” shortens the expected timeframe and conveys a sense of urgency.
Managing deadlines and “deadlines”
Monochron-acting people are often very process-oriented and like to plan far into the future. On the other hand, polychronic people have a more present-oriented way of thinking and acting.
One can already imagine what kind of misunderstandings may result. For instance, while you may wish to stick exactly to the schedule for a project and expect strict adherence to milestones even if they are far in the future, for Mexicans these dates are more rough estimates or suggestions. Much can happen in projects with a long planning and implementation time, so it is difficult for Mexicans to understand how to say today exactly what will happen on a particular date two or three years hence. To them, it is much more important to address current issues and issues.
Expand your tolerance frame
Even with short-term projects, Mexicans are flexible. Delivering a report a day or two later than originally agreed is, in their view, still on time. To come to a meeting 15, 20 or even 30 minutes later is within the tolerance frame.
Please do not try to discipline Mexican colleagues on timeliness, as they may not take you seriously, even if you are the supervisor. You may instead be perceived as overbearing and arrogant, even fussy. In any case, not someone with whom one would like to collaborate and in whom one would like to confide.
Of course, there are some important deadlines in Mexico which must be adhered to exactly. In most cases, however, in the event of an impending deadline, more can be accomplished with flexibility, improvisation and a personal touch than may be possible in another culture.
Your Mexican partners will expect you to have a degree of flexibility and will not understand your frustration with loosely observed deadlines. After all, from a Mexican point of view there could be many good reasons for the delay.
Solve problems by being culturally sensitive
Differing working styles can cause unease. For example, you may describe something as a “problem” in a meeting, while Mexicans would avoid the Spanish equivalent “problema”. They find it almost uncomfortable to use the term.
Rather, one speaks in generalities, and approaches to problem solving often vary. In your culture, people may sit down together and try to change definitions, structures or processes that have led to the problem before actively working on the solution. Often one looks for the cause or the guilty party.
In Mexico, on the other hand, problems are dealt with flexibly. If a difficulty arises, it is an opportunity to demonstrate improvisational talent. People who are good at improvising are considered very competent in Mexico. A successful Mexican manager can improvise well and mobilize his contacts to help him solve problems by making the impossible, possible.