Much has been written and discussed about the impact that cultural differences have on the way we conduct business and manage people. In this column, I have covered various aspects of cross-cultural problems between Mexicans and Americans.
Recognizing that cultural differences exist and affect how we do business is an important first step. The second step for managers is to understand the culture of “others” so that they can interact and carry out business in a more efficient way. Eventually, we hope, managers can become “bicultural” and feel comfortable in any cultural setting.
We often assume that managers learn how other cultures function, but continue to act the same as before-as if contact with another culture affects only their knowledge, not their actions.
However, it turns out that this is not the case. Most people change as a result of interacting with other cultures, basically by adopting some of the characteristics of the other culture while retaining some of their own.
Based on my own experience as a cross-cultural consultant and trainer, and with the help of some of my dedicated students, we have been exploring how U.S. and Mexican managers change as a result of interacting with one another. The analysis is based on Americans who have lived in Mexico for at least two years, and on Mexicans who have lived in the United States.
The main conclusion so far is that rather than adopting random traits from each other, the characteristics that the two groups adopt are fairly consistent.
For example, Mexicans usually appreciate both the order and informality of the U.S. way of doing business.
In fact, the most irritable aspect for most Mexicans who come back from working in the United States is relearning a different sense of order. Some aspects of Mexico they seem to find hard to get used to again are meetings that don’t start on time or never seem to end, deadlines that are not always taken seriously and a lack of punctuality. The formal and hierarchical style that prevails in Mexican companies is also looked at in a new light.
“One thing I like about the U.S. is that you don’t get less respect just because you have less status or less money. I call my boss John and he calls me Pedro, and I like that,” as one Mexican manager living in Chicago told me recently.
Meanwhile, for Americans living in Mexico the most attractive feature of the culture is, without a doubt, the affectionate aspect. While at first the constant hugging, cheek-kissing and warm greetings, and conversations about personal things are difficult to accept (too much proximity and too much of an invasion of privacy), eventually Americans seem to grow to enjoy it. One of our U.S. interviewees was telling us that when she goes back to the States she wants to hug and greet her friends and co-workers, and expects that they will be excited that she is there and will want to see her right away.
“The last time I went back, I hugged all of my friends. One of them said to me, ‘Are you trying to be European?’ It felt cold!”
Another young U.S. manager residing in Mexico tells me that, “at first I couldn’t stand it when I had a business meeting and they would start asking about my family, my life in Mexico. I wanted to get to the point right away. But I have changed my mind. It feels nice that people care about you as a person.”
What does all this tell us? While we all are raised with a certain culture and learn its rules, it does not mean that we prefer all aspects of our own culture. As we can see, all of us learn things from other cultures, and we then make them our own. Eventually, a synergy between cultures may take place, resulting in a new hybrid that features the best each has to offer. In short, a culture that we can all accept and enjoy.