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Sensitive Mexicans

Ilya Adler

It has been said by many non-Mexicans such as Americans, Germans, French, among many others, that Mexicans are much too touchy: They don't seem to handle criticism very well, and are too easily hurt. Stated bluntly, too touchy.

It is interesting to note that within many cultures, people often say the same thing about women, even in "touchy" cultures such as Mexico.

The Macho Unemotional Business World


In the world of business, having a reputation of being too sensitive can often be the kiss of death. In the West, especially, the world of business has a highly militarized language, probably because much of business culture was derived from military mentality (and male, of course). Thus, in business we talk about conquering and penetrating a market, or we talk about the business environment as a "jungle," and about all kinds of wars: price wars, incentive wars, discount wars, among many "wars." Therefore the Western business model frowns upon people who seem easily hurt, and guess what, the Mexican sensitivity (at least in their eyes) can be perceived as a trait which makes them ill-prepared to handle the rough world awaiting them.

The problem, as is always the case in cross-cultural matters, is that what in one culture is perceived as overly sensitive, in another culture the same behavior is considered harmonious, well-mannered and needed behavior to establish relationships.

Cultural Feelings


Let me illustrate what I am trying to convey with one specific example - public embarrassment. In Mexico, to put a person in a public situation of feeling embarrassed, for example, of looking ignorant, or ill-informed, is to embarrass that individual, since his or her weakness is being displayed publicly. In Mexico they use the term " balconear" to convey this behavior. " Balconear" comes from the word " balcón" (as in a balcony, literally), and in the old days leaders or young ladies would appear in balconies to be seen publicly. Thus, if you are running a brainstorm session in Mexico and do not agree with what a person does, it is considered rude to criticize the person or the idea too directly. If you say, "I think that's completely wrong," you will very likely get Mexicans to react with hurt feelings. Touchy, touchy.

As I make this point to non-Mexicans, they offer strong resistance. "Why should I waste my time worrying about their sensitivity? They should work on controlling their emotions better!" is the way one of my former trainees put it.

It really goes both ways, in an ideal world. But in my years of experience, non-Mexicans make this mistake time after time, either knowing that they are hurting people, or conveniently ignoring it altogether. But at a subconscious level, they put their Mexican counterpart one step lower. On top of that, already the feeling of superiority that many non-Mexicans have about Mexico and its people, the treatment they give is very much that of a colonizer.

The Business Case


So much for the moral issue involved in this cultural trait. But this column presumes to be a helpful tool for people who would like to do business in Mexico, and so a business case must be made.

In the first place, it should be rather obvious that anyone whose feelings are hurt is not likely to be positive in their reactions, so they will not work well with you. This would be true if you have Mexican employees, or are negotiating with Mexican counterparts.

The second issue is to believe that being so-called sensitive affects your effectiveness in the business world. You can be effective and affective at the same time. As women have entered the workforce in large numbers, they have made it very clear that feeling-oriented management can be as effective as other styles, if not more. The military model does not need to be the only one. We can seduce markets just as easily as conquer them. We can cooperate rather than compete and get the same or better results. We can do well while doing good just as easily as simply doing well.

We can be sensitive, and we can win.

But most of all, if we are smart, by giving due respect to the sensitivity that Mexicans may have, you can simply improve your business opportunities, and begin to enjoy, rather than endure, doing business in Mexico.

Published or Updated on: January 1, 2005 by Ilya Adler © 2008
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