Like their counterparts around the world, Mexican managers also have many meetings scheduled. Of course, the point of these meetings is to promote projects, to share information or to make decisions. However, these are not the sole purposes of a meeting in Mexico. Building relationships and trust, cultivating contacts and exchanging ideas are of great importance as well. Furthermore, a meeting always offers the opportunity to present oneself. Then it is all about persuading others through eloquence and charisma.
The participants will give you an idea of what the purpose of the meeting or presentation is. Mexican companies are structured very hierarchically: 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.
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. Use the waiting time to engage in small talk, make phone calls, or check your emails. Make sure to avoid any hint of impatience and do not expect those who arrive late to apologize.
Businesspeople 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, you may 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.
Many international businesspeople 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. You should react flexibly to this. If you feel that you are 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.
Another source for misunderstandings: Mexicans often give the impression that they did not prepare for a meeting and consequently cannot comment in detail on a single topic. However, this impression may be caused by differences in the communication and listening patterns of the participants. In countries that use a direct communication style, the focus of a meeting is often on facts and figures. Someone who knows all the exact numbers seems to be competent. Mexicans, on the other hand, often use subjunctive language and communicate indirectly; instead of getting to the point quickly, Mexicans often hint at things. As a result, it is not always clear for others what their position is. Estimates are considered as sufficient and a talent for improvisation is seen as positive and not as a lack of preparation.
Furthermore, your Mexican interlocutors will often speak at the same time, take calls, have short conversations on the side and go in and out of the room during the meeting.
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 competent speaker can also involve the audience emotionally. Convince through eloquence, the use of figurative language and infectious enthusiasm for your topic. Answer questions from the audience immediately instead of waiting until the end of the presentation. And do not get irritated when Mexicans do other things while listening, they are used to multitasking.
When you are listening to a Mexican presentation, it will be appreciated if you ask questions. However, never mention any mistakes or inconsistencies in front of others to avoid loss of face. Voice your criticism of a Mexican business partner’s presentation carefully and in private only. Say for example: “I am not sure if I have understood you correctly, but …”
Extract from Business Culture Mexico, Courtesy of CONBOOK Verlag