In Mexican companies, the majority of offices are open plan without natural light. There are individual offices on the edges of the open-plan offices that are separated by large glass panes. The supervisors occupy these offices. Due to a large number of workplaces in a single large, open area, it is often very noisy in Mexican offices. You can hear telephones ringing and people talking to each other. This alone gives many foreign visitors a feeling of chaos and confusion.
Polychronic Working Style
The Mexican approach to appointments, meetings and projects is polychronic. This means that tasks are not executed in sequence – one after the other – but processed in parallel. Dedicating oneself to a single task or to just one person, i.e. to proceed monochronically, does not fit into this scheme. This means that you may be sitting in a meeting with someone who is always on the phone. An employee brings something in for signature or another business partner might just pop in and say “Hello”. This may cause misunderstandings. You may feel that your Mexican project partner is acting in a disrespectful way. After all, you have made an appointment with them and you consider this to mean that they will devote their full attention and time to you. From a Mexican point of view, however, it would be rude not to welcome a business partnerwho simply wants to say “hello” because of an appointment or to just cut him off on the phone.
As Mexicans devote their attention to several tasks at the same time, there is always the danger that a matter will fall by the wayside if you do not emphasize the urgency. So how do you communicate this to your Mexican partners and colleagues? Do not expect something that was agreed upon today for the coming week to be implemented, even if you have fixed the exact date and time. Follow up during the week and communicate indirectly! Offer your support or thank your contact person in advance for their help. Through frequent contacts, your Mexican partner feels important, valued and respected. This is very conducive to getting the job done.
People who act monochronically are often very process-driven and like to plan far into the future. This contrasts with the more present-oriented action and way of thinking of polychronic people. One can imagine that this difference in working styles often leads to misunderstandings. You may have a monochronic approach and want to stick to the deadlines for a project and therefore demand compliance with milestones, even if they are far in the future. For Mexicans, such deadlines are merely rough indications of a timeline. So much can happen, especially in projects with long planning and implementation times, that it is difficult for Mexicans to imagine what exactly will happen on a certain date in two or three years. From their point of view, it is far more important to tackle current issues and problems.
Of course, there are also important deadlines in Mexico, which must be met on time. In most cases, however, if deadlines are looming, it is possible to use flexibility, improvisation and personal contacts to salvage much that would already be lost in countries with a monochronic way of thinking and acting. Your Mexican partners, therefore, expect certain flexibility from you and cannot understand why you are angry because commitments were not fulfilled on time. After all, from a Mexican perspective, there were many good reasons for this.
If a problem occurs in a Mexican company, the neutral term “matter” or “issue” is used rather than “problema”. And while in many other countries, people will first analyze processes and try to identify the “guilty party” that caused a problem before finally implementing a solution, in Mexico, problems are handled with a great deal of flexibility. If there is an issue, the most important thing is to have a talent for improvisation. People who are good at improvising are considered very competent in Mexico. A successful Mexican manager can improvise perfectly and mobilize contacts to help solve the problem. This often makes the impossible possible. This is part of project management in Mexico.
Mexicans tend to be evasive in conflict situations. They often avoid direct confrontation – especially when other hierarchical levels are involved. After all, one does not want to jeopardize the personal relationship under any circumstances. Your Mexican partner or colleague may express discontent by no longer getting in touch with you, refusing to answer the phone or being short with you.
In countries that maintain a direct style of communication, problems are addressed straightaway and conflicts are fought out openly, sometimes it even can get loud. In Mexico, shouting is an absolute no-go. Anyone who screams loses face. The relationship will be severely compromised, if not destroyed. Mexican partners will, in the worst case, terminate the business relationship overnight or an employee will simply no longer come to work and resign.
So how do Mexicans deal with conflicts? Due to their indirect communication style and the importance of the relationship level, Mexicans are very cautious in conflict situations and try to get to the bottom of the matter in informal talks. When confronted directly, they usually react very emotionally.
Should you feel that your personal relationship of trust has been affected, you should give priority to cultivating relationships over the subject matter and express your appreciation for your partners as well. In very difficult cases it can also make sense to involve a joint contact as an intermediary who can bring both sides back to the table and your project management in Mexico back on track.
Extract from Business Culture Mexico, Courtesy of CONBOOK Verlag