Knowledge Exchange

When doing business, make time to genuinely talk to and understand the people you are working with.

Jose Manuel Rodriguez Moreno (Class of 2020)

“Mexicans are lazy; once it starts to rain a little bit, they stay at home and do absolutely nothing.”

Those were the words of a young Finnish student staying on a six-month exchange in my home city, San Luis Potosí. By that time, I had already lived abroad and experienced firsthand the generalisations and oversimplifications that we humans tend to do. When it comes to interacting with different cultures or even other persons, it is relatively easy to judge someone else’s actions from one’s own single point of view.

Though it is incredibly complex to generalise Latin-American cultures into a single framework, we indeed share some aspects of our history that have created similar characteristics to exist in the region. In this brief article, I want to portray certain features that become very relevant in the workplace. Again, something that is true in a multicultural framework is that they work when trying to understand collective unfoldings, however, on an individual basis, it is always better to understand on a personal level.

I use Erin Meyer’s excellent book’s framework, The Culture Map, to discuss these differences.

Communicating and Context

We are located on the middle scale of High-Low Context, relatively further into the High Context Zone. Latin American cultures tend not to say things directly. Now, let us remember that we should base this relatively. If coming from a higher context culture, like the Chinese or Japanese, it will be easy to read between the lines, but it will also be complicated not to overdo it. If, in contrast, coming from a lower context culture, like the German, it is crucial to be aware of the possible existence of such subliminal messages and be alert. In both cases, it is recommended to clarify and ask questions around the agreement to ensure that both sides have the same understanding. Since, in general, we are highly emotional cultures, it would also help to be sensitive to expressions and reactions.



While giving feedback, we tend to be even less direct than we used to, predominantly with negative feedback. We tend to elaborate on our message to ensure that we are not impolite or misunderstood. While receiving feedback, Latin American cultures might be more emotional or reactive to such. We will talk further about relationships later, but be sure to build a high-trust relationship before trying to give strong and blunt feedback to someone, as it can have a ripple effect. Stressing the positive side will help while giving negative feedback, but be careful not to overdo it since people might only hear what they wanted to hear.



While leading, it is more common to have hierarchical organisations. As it is used to have direct orders coming from the top, the organisation’s entry levels might need a push to come up with ideas or solutions. A clear structure and organisation are advised, with a transparent decision-making hierarchy. Especially in urgent or emergency matters, we tend to prefer to know who to rely on incase we are not confident that we are the ones who can make the decision.



Become friends, build individual trust, and only then start working together. An example of this is the common “sobremesa” in business lunches. “Sobremesa” is a Spanish word that is hard to translate. It refers to the time that people share in a table environment where they sit for hours after finishing eating. When doing business, make time to genuinely talk to and understand the people you are working with, plan for working lunches and long discussion hours, and only then do the business talk. Latin American people have powerful bonds; once you become a trusted person, your agreements will be bonded by relationships. Thus, you will have an even more confident contract or business. With historically unreliable institutions, the power of people became our trust system. Note: institutions have become much more robust and more reliable in recent years.



There is an overall understanding or belief that confrontations are generally hostile to a team. It is never advised to have conflicts in front of a group or public, which might damage the relationship and make the person feel very vulnerable. The saying ‘praise in public, give negative feedback in private’ holds especially true in LatAm. Since we tend to bond strongly with our coworkers, such situations might generate a group-driven misunderstanding that might poison the workplace.



Many might have heard of the power of “mañana” or of “ahorita” in Mexico. Punctuality is not one of our strong characteristics. For example, when organising parties, we tend to have an agreement to meet at eight, knowing everyone will arrive past 8:30. Time is stretchable and relative to us. Knowing this, a leader in LatAm should encourage a leader to incentivise a punctual culture or plan for a buffer in their time agreements.



The thing that has always fascinated me and one of the reasons I have become so addicted to trying to understand and collaborate with different cultures comes down to a conclusion that I made while walking at Suzhou’s Pingjiang Road. Before my first experience living in China, many people back home used to tell me all these stories of how different Chinese people were and how their ancient culture and their Confucian and Taoist-influenced beliefs made them so unique and different to us. However, while walking on that picturesque road, I also felt very much at home. The warmth of the people and the strong relationships I had made, among many other similarities, made me realise how alike we were. Certain aspects of our culture, such as collectivism and family orientation, make us more similar to China than we are to our neighbours in the north.

Multiculturality is a tricky thing and I believe that we need to promote self-cultural awareness to recognise the similarities when we are working with a distinct culture. When we highlight the similarities and accept them by understanding the differences, we become genuinely multicultural.

To the title of this article, my hometown is a city where it rains scarcely. San Luis Potosí is in the middle of the steppe, so we have a relatively short period of rain. For people in our city, we use those rainy days to be inside our houses, do readings, housework, or rest—one of the main reasons we don’t go out those days. Our Finnish visitor was doing something that we all continuously do, oversimplifying a situation through a statement without understanding the whole picture.


Industry: International Trade & Development
Company: The Mexican Chamber of Commerce
Job Title: Secretary-General