Communication In Mexico

communication in Mexico

Your communication in Mexico benefits from the fact that many Mexican business people speak English. This is especially true for partners in middle and upper management as well as for well-educated employees with university degrees. However, people at the lower levels of the hierarchy only speak Spanish. Even when you are out of the office, you will find that hardly anyone speaks English. The more rural the surroundings, the more important it is to be able to speak Spanish.

Your Mexican business partner will always appreciate it if you speak some Spanish. At least learn a few phrases to show that your personal relationship is important to you. You will always earn some brownie points if you greet someone in Spanish.

Making A Good Impression

For Mexicans, courtesy and the manners associated with it are extremely important. To international business people, Mexican manners may sometimes seem to border on subservience. However, do not make the mistake of assuming that the other person is inferior in status to you. Mexicans are very status-oriented and pay close attention to whether they are treated according to their status.

During any communication in Mexico, you will also make a good impression if you frequently express thanks, praise and compliments. There are plenty of reasons for doing so: that they picked you up from the airport, that everything was perfectly organized, the delicious Mexican food, the spectacular scenery and so on.

The Mexican understatement is often expressed through polite phrases commonly used by Mexican men, such as su servidor (your servant) or a sus ordenes (at your service). If you want to walk past two people who are in a conversation and it is a bit narrow, many Mexicans (women as well) will say con permiso even if they could walk past them without touching anyone. To be particularly polite, the two conversationalists should answer with propio (please).

Greeting And Saying Goodbye

Mexicans extend very friendly and warm greetings to their business partners. Physical contact plays a major role in this. Two ladies or one lady and one gentleman greet each other with a little kiss on the cheek. Men greet each other with a handshake and a friendly pat on the back. The first time you get to know each other, you might be a little more reserved and just shake hands. However, at the latest by the time you leave, you will always get a little more physical. And if you have known each other for a long time, there is almost no getting away without a kiss or a hearty hug. Physical contact during greetings goes hand in hand with the fact that you move very quickly from the formal to the informal form of address.

This type of physical greeting may be unusual or even somewhat uncomfortable for you. Particularly in the business world, people in many countries forgo any physical contact. It may happen that you consciously or unconsciously step back or even flinch. Naturally, you should not have to do anything that is unpleasant for you, because the others will pick up on it immediately. On the other hand, your Mexican partners or colleagues will probably find your behaviour harsh and distant, which is not conducive to the business relationship.

So what can you do? First, it is important to realize that physical contact is an integral part of Mexican greetings. Just as you were taught as a child to shake hands politely, Mexicans learned to kiss or pat each other on the back. However, you can also explain to your Mexican partners that you are not yet used to this form of greeting. Then they will no longer necessarily judge your hesitation as being aloof.

Likewise, if you come into a meeting room, you should greet each of those already present individually – superiors and ladies first. It is not enough to simply toss a general greeting into the room. Mexicans would consider that indifferent as well as rude.

Business partners with whom you are already acquainted will be happy to introduce you to other participants in the room. Depending on the occasion and situation, introductions may be formal with titles and positions or more informal, simply by first names. Since relationships and networks play an important role in Mexican business life, you should also introduce your partners to your own contacts at the next opportunity. They will very much appreciate it.

Mexican Communication Style

The Mexican communication style is expressive and emotional. It is accepted to show positive emotions in business. Mexicans will also interrupt each other or speak at the same time. It is also common to touch each other’s wrist or upper arm while talking and to pat someone on their shoulder. Long silences, however, are perceived as uncomfortable. People from other cultures sometimes feel that the Mexicans are very loud or even too loud. Furthermore, facial expressions and gestures reinforce the spoken word.

Since Mexicans communicate in such a lively manner, the objective restraint of some foreign businesspeople can quickly appear boring and monotonous. Therefore, do not wait for a break in the conversation to say something. There will not be one! If you remain silent for too long during a meeting or dinner, Mexicans may think that you are arrogant, disinterested or incompetent. So do not be afraid to interrupt, this is part of the communication in Mexico!

Assent And Disagreement

Because they are above all focused on relationships, many Mexicans tend to speak in an extremely indirect way even though they are very outgoing. They rarely say “no” or express criticism and rejection, in contrast to the way communication is handled in many other countries with a more direct way of speaking.

Mexicans often give an explanation when they actually mean “no”, they will say something like “Lo que pasa es que…” or shorter “Es que…” followed by the explanation. Many businessmen who are used to straight-talking in their home country tend to try to pin Mexicans down to a “yes” or a “no”. You should be careful not to do this, as your Mexican partner may feel embarrassed. They would feel that they lost face and this, in turn, would jeopardize your relationship of trust!

Moreover, Mexicans use many filler words or phrases, such as “maybe”. Or they may say: “It’s not that simple” or “I’ll take another look at it”. This could mean “no” as well even when it actually sounds almost like a confirmation to you. When interpreting something a Mexican has said, you should always consider the context. The Mexican “mañana” is a good example, as this phrase can mean “tomorrow”, “soon”, “in the near future”, “not now” or “not at all” depending on the context.

Voicing Criticism

Criticizing a business partner, colleague or employee directly, possibly even before a group, e.g. in a meeting, is an absolute no-go in Mexico. It is irrelevant whether the criticism is justified or how it is presented.

When expressing criticism in Mexico first of all you must pay attention to the hierarchical structure. A supervisor may criticize employees, but a colleague never criticizes other colleagues. And employees never ever criticize their boss.

Furthermore, it is usually sufficient to allude to the problem in order to express criticism. These subtle allusions are usually well understood. It is also vital that you always mention positive aspects when criticizing and make it clear that you very much value the other person personally and appreciate their work.

Small Talk

Small talk is an important part of building trust and good relationships. No matter whether personally, on the phone or by email, the focus at the beginning of every conversation is on cultivating the relationship. Only then do professional issues and matters come up. This, too, is part of Mexican courtesy.

Good topics for small talk are your arrival and first positive impressions of Mexico. Many Mexicans love football. They will also ask about your family and your hobbies. Show some pictures, tell a bit about yourself and also try to remember the names of your conversation partner’s family. Then you will have a good starting point the next time you are meeting or talking on the phone. Positive shared experiences also offer a good start to a conversation.

Do not choose any topic that could damage the good atmosphere. This includes criticism of the Catholic Church or the Pope, the contrast between the rich and the poor, crime and the drug mafia, or a lack of infrastructure and environmental issues. Do not bring up anything that implies that you see Mexico as being a low-cost threshold country or third world country. And also avoid Mexico´s ambivalent relationship with the USA.

Alexandra Metzger

Extract from Business Culture Mexico, Courtesy of CONBOOK Verlag

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