Comparing Management Differences – Cultural Myths

articles Business Living, Working, Retiring

David McLaughlin

General Items


“What works here ought to work in Mexico.” Not so. You cannot transplant Canadian or US techniques, methods and management styles without adapting them and expect them to work successfully.

“What is new and modern is the most effective.” What is new and effective in one environment, will not automatically work in a different culture and working environment. The same principle holds true between companies with different cultures as much as between countries with different cultures.

“Our management methods are good and the Mexican techniques are bad.” There are many excellent and successful Mexican companies who are distinctly Mexican in their management and techniques. Every culture produces its own dynamics and demands. To operate in a culture or management system, requires patience and understanding of that system. To many outsiders, the Canadian and US management systems seem rude, demeaning, impersonal, uncaring and sacrificial of its people. It all depends upon what one is used to.

“The Mexican is lazy, nothing gets done.” Wrong. The Mexican is in fact, very industrious. When it is time to work, they work. When it is time to play, they don’t work. Their sense of immediacy is not the same as we adhere to in Canada and the US. Things will get done. Just not necessarily on your time schedule!

Negotiating or “Getting to Yes?”

For the Mexican, it is always pleasure before business. Developing a personal relationship is extremely important before jumping right in to the reason for the meeting. You will find the atmosphere easy-going and relaxed. If the meeting is at the office of your Mexican associate, he will be a gracious host. The person comes before status and rank. Dignity and preservation of the appearance of integrity is vital. Pulling rank or using caustic or critical comments about or to a person in the room is guaranteed to put a chill on proceedings.

Getting to yes often involves a number of smaller agreements. However, when your Mexican associate isn’t in agreement, he will avoid saying “no” thus avoiding the risk of displeasure and disagreement. Rather, he will say “maybe” or any other equivocating phrase.

Get agreements in writing. An agreement made out of politeness will later be reversed. “Dar largas” or “beating around the bush” is a way of deferring a “yes” that is not committed to. Learn to distinguish between a real yes and a polite yes.

Business Entertaining and Meals

In Mexico, because personal relationships are so important, many business transactions occur during meals. The best times are breakfast (desayuno), or lunch (comida – the main meal of the day, usually between 2:00 and 4:00 pm). Breakfast is the preferred event, often in an medium to expensive place. The purpose is to get to know each other in a more intimate and informal setting, as well as exchange information and do business.

The person inviting, or the person selling usually pays the bill. It is not split.

On occasion you may be invited to your Mexican associate’s home for “cena“, the evening meal. This meal will be eaten between 8:30 pm and 9:30 pm. Business is not discussed here. Your host is showing his respect and interest in you by inviting you to his home. Do not insult him and his family by bringing business in the door with you. Business is only concluded between friends. This is his way of helping along the business you have between you.

Time, Punctuality and office hours

Time in Mexico is a relative thing. The present drives out the future. After all what is time but to be enjoyed now. After all, the future may bring unpleasant things!

Thus, although punctuality is respected it is by no means revered as in Canada and the US. Being 30 minutes late to a social event is considered normal. Earlier and you will inconvenience the host. Be on time for appointments, but be prepared to wait. No matter how late you actually get together, be genuinely happy to see your associate and begin with a social discussion.

The normal office day runs from 9:00 am to 5:00 or 7:00 pm, with lunch being taken between 2:00 pm and 4:00 pm. Some offices close during the lunch period. Large companies usually stay open. Stores open from as early as 7:30 am to 9:00 am with 8:00 am being the norm. The larger stores will stay open during the lunch period. The smaller stores will often close during this time.

Dress Codes

For business, suits are appropriate. Shorts should not be worn, even for a informal social gathering. They are for tourists only. Casual pants or dress jeans and an open shirt are acceptable for informal meetings.

For women in a business meeting, a light suit and skirt; or good blouse and skirt or good pants are suggested. Revealing clothing is not appropriate.

Social Behaviours

Learn some Spanish! Besides making life easier, the Mexican appreciates your attempting to learn their language. Do not be afraid of making mistakes. Your Mexican associate will help you to learn and will respect your courage in trying.

In greetings, men will always shake hands, even if it has only been an hour since you were apart. If you are a woman, men will hesitate to let you initiate a hand shake. Women will touch each other on the shoulder or arm rather than shake hands. If they know each other well, they may kiss each other on the cheek. Being an affectionate people, don’t be surprised if you are the recipient of a hug on the subsequent meeting.

Conversational space (the distance between people) is much closer in Mexico than in Canada or the US. If you feel like your space is being invaded, don’t back away. Your movement away will be considered discursive or negative.

Published or Updated on: January 1, 2000 by David McLaughlin © 2008
Share This:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *