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Mexico '95 & beyond - Up against the wall, once again

Dr. Marc J. Ehrlich

In recent time, we have all been inundated with news about the financial crisis. I don't know anyone who has not been affected by the devaluation, the increase in interest rates, and the uncertainty about Mexico's economic future.

Little mention, however, has been made about the impact of this crisis on the image of Mexico and the Mexican's image abroad.

For the past seven years, I have been working with multinational companies to help their executives understand the Mexican personality and work environment. In a sense, I function as an interpreter of the Mexican business and interpersonal culture for executives from Anglo cultures.

Up until December 20, 1994, the general attitude of these foreign executives had been, "Well, I don't really understand how the Mexican does business. But he must be doing something right. Things are going pretty good down here." This attitude led many Anglo executives to be more respectful of the Mexican work environment and more likely to treat their Mexican counterparts as equals.

Despite this trend, many foreign executives from the United States maintain a somewhat condescending attitude towards the Mexican. They typically see themselves as technically superior and are more likely to be impatient with the Mexican professional style. Many believe that they come to Mexico as near saviors and cannot understand why the Mexicans do not receive them with open-arms and profound gratitude.

The Mexican is especially sensitive in his relationship with the Americans, expecting and resenting the "holier than thou" stance assumed by many of these executives. The Mexican's sensitivity to this critical attitude leads him to be somewhat defiant and uncooperative with the North American. In the face of the American's perceived arrogance, the Mexican's pride frequently deteriorates into stubbornness and passive-aggressive resistance.

While struggling to find a way to work within the Mexican professional environment, many Anglos complained about the Mexican and his way of conducting business. Some of the more frequent complaints about the Mexican have been:

  • 1. There seems to be more concern for appearances than for substance.
  • 2. The Mexican tends to be more interested in the short-term results. Long-term benefits are often sacrificed for the security of the immediate return.
  • 3. They seem to be inefficiently resistant to change. They tend to defend already existing systems regardless of the undeniable need for modernization.
  • 4. It is difficult to trust him. There always seems to be something else going on, something behind the scenes that is more impactful than what can be observed on the surface.
  • 5. Despite all they say and do, they need us more than we need them.

Much of my work in my seminars has been to soften these criticisms by placing the Mexican's personality and professional style into a psychological context. By doing so, behaviors which appear strange and impossible to understand, suddenly make sense. As the Anglo comes to understand why the Mexican is the way he is, it is easier to respect his way of acting. With greater respect, comes a better opportunity for a collegial relationship.

With the apparent "Mexican miracle" my job was made easier. I could argue that, despite what seemed to be strange and difficult to understand behavior, the Mexican had proved himself to be a world-class player. As such, the Anglo had to struggle to fit-in, more so than to force-feed new managerial systems to the Mexican.

Then the bubble burst. Suddenly the Mexican's image was devalued worse than his peso. If his government had just given the world (and especially the United States) further reason to think the worse, how can the Mexican now defend himself from all of these criticisms. Salinas was thought to have concealed important information. Sierra Puche was called a liar. Politics decisions once again interfered with economic policy, and political systems were maintained to the detriment of the Mexican people. And possibly worse of all, the United States had to bail out Mexico.

I can just imagine what a newly-arrived executive on his first overseas tour was told before he came to Mexico. "Hey, you better get down there and see what you can do to straighten out those Mex'cans. Someone has to do something to protect our investment down there. Heaven knows, they sure can't do that for themselves!" And a new cycle of the arrogant, superior-minded American and the proud, defensive Mexican starts anew. What a pity!

Published or Updated on: April 14, 1996 by Dr. Marc J. Ehrlich © 2009
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