Living and Working Among Mexicans

Contributed by Mieu Phan Coaching, 19 August, 2019

Mexico is an emerging economic powerhouse and boasts one the largest number of trade agreements. Having the second-largest economy in Latin America, Mexico and its citizens are prominent world leaders. This article is a brief overview of the Mexican culture for working with or living among its vibrant citizens. The suggestion of possible interactions are just suggestions. Even within a culture, there are also individuals. Even within a country, there are also different work cultures. Knowing a little of a person's perspective opens the window to greater appreciation.

Communication is High-Context

High-context communication in Mexico means that communication is indirect. Effective communication is developed through years of connection and shared understanding of expectations. These relationships plays out throughout all of Mexican life as followed:

a) Language: The most spoken language of Mexico is Spanish followed by Nahuatl as the most common indigenous language. There are currently 69 indigenous languages that may appear in official documents and governmental communication. Spanish is a romance language with many homographic words (words with multiple meanings). Not only are meanings based on the context but also of the context of where in the country the words are spoken.

b) Humor: Mexican humor poke fun at everything except for the Lady Guadalupe (Guadalupe Virgin). This virgin has her own large temple where thousands of flocks to visit her on Dec. 12. Jokes may be politically incorrect, involves mockery even about themselves, use derogatory words, and Calaveras (a depiction of when someone dies and is taken by the Grim Reaper). However, Mexicans do have a sensitivity to foreigners making fun of them. If a foreign politician does make fun of a Mexican then there might be a demand for a public apology. Mexico's neighbor to the North, Americans find Mexican humor offensive as American avoid talks about religion, politics, money, derogatory words, and demise of others. It would help Americans to realize that Mexican humor is about variety and spiciness. With very little boundaries, it is possible for someone to get hurt.

c) Work: Mexicans are hard workers and are motivated. The prospect of making a good living and being fulfilled professionally is important. Yet career is not the most motivating factor. It is family. Family is the utmost important followed by community. For a foreigner to effectively do business with a Mexican, there is an element of how this sale will help him, his family, his community and perhaps Mexico.

In everyday life, Mexican flawlessly exert efforts in welcoming one another. When greeting, women cheek kisses one another or a brief hug among men. For formal introductions, a firm handshake are between men and right should pat between men. These are opportunities for all parties to catch up on each other's lives. These formalities happen every day before work begins. The importance of an emotional bond is how Mexicans understand what is said even when nothing is said. They understand when a nod is an acknowledgement not an acceptance and vice versa.

In communicating with a low-context culture, Mexicans find the straight talk offensive. The saying 'If you don't sign, I will go to your competitor' is viewed as over-aggressive, offensive and rude. This statement is a call to immediate action which is contrary to Mexican style of building deep relationship first approach. In communicating with another high-context culture, Mexicans are stepping into a mind-field. A word may have a specific meaning within a context in Mexican while the word has a completely different meaning in another culture. A seemingly innocent comment can erupt into an insult. The best course of action for Mexicans in communicating with another culture is to use the low-context approach where sentences are direct, explicit and easy to understand. Perhaps, look towards the American style of communication where its citizens came from different countries, different religion and different languages. However, the American style of providing negative feedback becomes confusing as there is an emphasis to soften criticism.

Providing Negative Feedback

Mexican society is a saving face society thus there is a disdain for giving a refusal. When an answer requires a direct 'no', the answer comes in inconclusive way that appears long winded. Indirect words are used such as: 'maybe', 'let's wait and see', 'let me think about it' and other forms of avoiding 'no'. Also, there is such a strong reluctance to disagree openly with colleagues and a tendency to avoid conflicts and confrontation at all costs.

For individuals from more straight society, the only telling someone what the other party wants to hear is similar to telling a lie. In America where direct communication is viewed as competence and confidence, a Mexican approach of avoidance may be perceived as being dishonest. Other times, the diplomatic approach makes Mexicans appear as non-communicative.

Some approaches in dealing with negative feedback with a Mexican team are:

a) Build a personal relationship: With a strong personal relationship, a Mexican feels more comfortable relaying unpleasant news such as missing a deadline.

b) Relay unpleasant news in person in a one-on-one setting: In having a one-on-one private meeting allows for an individual to save-face with other colleagues.

c) Put emphasis on the problem not on who was responsible: The statements or inquiries made are best redirected to 'We have a problem with X.' Here the inquiry is in finding a solution and not placing blame. Mexicans believe that when they do make a mistake, they will get support from their manager in solving the problem.

d) Use open-ended questions: By using open-ended questions, the receiver does not feel cornered. For instance, when you suspect a deadline is not going to be met, consider asking 'How hard was the task?'

e) Consider removing the boss from the discussion: If there is a difficult question to answer, have a team meeting without the boss. Allow the team to discuss among themselves before bringing it to the boss.

In witnessing what appears as a verbal sparring match in another culture, it would help Mexicans to remember the purpose of a healthy debate. These debates might be like 'playing devil's advocate' designed to hash out ideas, bring up new perspectives, and spark creativity. If it is a criticism, it is not a criticism of a person but rather an idea or approach.

Principle-First Persuasion

Mexicans follow the principle-first approach of persuasion. This type of persuasion requires why this topic is discussed, theoretical concepts, how parameters are set, outlining methodologies for testing before getting to a conclusion and recommendations. The idea is to have all scenarios considered when implementation starts. With long discussions, everyone is a strong understanding of the tasks and thus implementation are quick.

There are two other types of persuasion: the holistic and the practical-first approach. In the holistic approach to persuasion, it is about the bigger picture. Mexicans find holistic approach of persuasion as the solution or answer appear inconsistent and is independent on other factors. For instance, a poor person was at fault in an accident. The judge may say that the victim does not deserve compensation because he is rich. Compensation would be too financially stressful on the at-fault person. In the practical-first approach, it focuses on a solution rather than on the principle. Mexicans find the quick answer uncomfortable because there may not be an explanation or theoretical approach to come to the conclusion. Frustration is compounded when new data appears to confirm that a new course of action should be taken. For this reason, the practical-first type of persuasion approach involves multiple revisions thus have lengthy implementation period.

Hierarchy Principle

Mexican society is a hierarchical society in both work and family life.

i) Society: The racial classification of Mexico is from the Spanish colonial caste system. Legally, the caste system was abolished in 1821 when Mexico gained independence from Spain. Remnants of the people in Mexico is divided based on monetary power and control, status, and authority. The higher class has the power, status, and authority while the little have zero to no power. The class structure from higher rank to lower rank are as follows:

a) Peninsulares - The topmost social class were the Spanish officials who ruled Mexico. Many from the lower class were treated poorly by the Peninsulares which has led to a revolt among the lower class.

b) White Mexicans - These were descendants of Spanish people who settled in Mexico. These individuals also held administrative power and ruled over the Mestizos and the Amerindians.

c) Criollos - These individuals are of Spanish descendants. Even though this group held little political power, this group have great economic influence.

d) Mestizos - This group is the major population of Mexico at approximately 60% to 80% of the population. They are European and Indian descendants. They have little or negligible economic and political power.

e) Amerindians - This group is about 10% to 30% of the population. This group are given lower wages as well as little political power. These individuals are the native descendants. This group incorporates approximately 62 different native linguistic groups.

f) Others - This group is of the lowest rank with the lowest economic and political influence. These individuals represent 3% of the population. These individuals are of mixed race with African or Asian blood.

Those from egalitarian societies may be uncomfortable with a hierarchical society as it evokes a master and slave relationship. Even though lower-class person responsibility is to obey, the paternalistic burden lays on the upper-class person. This means that the upper class have a heavy duty to mentor, coach, and protecting those under his care.

ii) Family - Family is of the utmost importance in Mexican life. For this reason, many aspects of the pre-Columbian way of life still exists. Either a household is multi-generational or adult children live close by their parents. Here, it is common for unmarried adult children to live with their parents. It is also common for elderly parents to move in with their children. Family is patriarchal where the father or the grandfather is the head of the household with the men carrying the lineage of the family. Everyone in the family has a role where the men teach the boys and the women teaches the girls.

However, the family structures are slowly changing as married couples are becoming more egalitarian. Women are moving into the workforce and are using contraceptive to have one to two children.

iii) Friendship - Relationship is very important in Mexican life. One way for a person to show a desire to strengthen a relationship to is request for something. The saying 'Mi casa es su casa' means literally 'My house is your house.' reflects the Mexican generosity. Everything a person has must be shared with those close to him/her. If the request is rejected then it is taken personally. In the big scheme of things, relationship is their only or best form of insurance. These relationships often help people meet economic, political, health, and nutritional goals.

Affective Trust

Affective trust is about having trust in people at the personal level. Mexicans prefer to work with those who they have an emotional trust with. They prefer working with those they have a warm and friendly rapport with. Another type of trust is cognitive trust. Cognitive trust is from the head is based on professional experience, expertise, and achievement.

Mexicans finds people from cognitive trust society as untrustworthy as they put a lot of focus on showing the right side. Showing the good side of them. They may even boast about their accomplishments. Perhaps, they were taught to be task oriented. Those 2-3 hour lunches which is customary in Mexico is a challenging time as they are most likely focusing on convincing their potential client on their abilities. They may not understand that these lunches is meant to build a friendship. They may not understand that the significance of emotional bonding. If they do understand the emotional bonding in business, this way of conducting business may appear exhausting.

Flexible-Time Culture

i) Work: Popular saying in Mexico are 'There's more time than there is life' , and 'health comes first' reflects this country's view on time. What is underlying in the statements reflects the family-centered mentality instead of task-centered mentality. When a full intention to finish a task does not materialized on the time then the full intention is to complete the task as soon as possible.

In meetings, the allotted time begins later and the end time may go overtime. Time is precious and is referred to as a present.

In dealing with individuals from a fixed time culture, Mexicans view these modes of conducts constricting and stressful. Common to those in fixed time culture, a meeting agenda may have subtopics listed. In some cases, subtopics have an attached beginning and end time. Thus, items of discussion are in the order they appear with ending one subtopic before starting a new subtopic. This is much like closing one door before opening another door.

Individuals from fixed cultures such as Switzerland, Germany, England and other Anglo-Saxon countries have a hard time understanding the flow of a meeting. For Mexicans, the topics discussed are based on significance. What appears as significant when the meeting was scheduled may have changed.

ii) Social Life - Having a flexible-time culture, implies being flexible. This is why good friends may just stop by unannounced. If that friends is not there then there will be another friend. If a friendship is not as close as the visitor thinks then the supposed friend will pretend to be not home.

When invited to a party, it assumed that the first set of guests will arrive one hour late. If a person does show up at the said time, the host will not be ready and this may cause stress. If it is a dinner engagement, then the meal will be served at about 2 hours after the said time.

As Mexicans are skilled at keeping close relationship and everyone is in the know, the concept of 'save the date' is unknown. From the time the invitation goes out, there is consistent communication. The meaning behind the 'reminder' is different than that of fixed-time culture as well. The reminder is used to show the true desire to have that person attend.

Christian Based-Society

With 90% of Mexicans are Christian with at least 80% of this group are Roman Catholics. Most office working hours are 8AM to 6PM from Monday to Friday. Holidays are New Year's Day, Constitution Day, Benito Juarez's Birthday (was president during the Mexico-US war), Maundy Thursday (Thursday before Easter Sunday), Good Friday (Friday before Easter Sunday), Labor Day, Labor Day, Independence Day, Revolution Day, Day of the Virgin Guadalupe, and Christmas Day.

Mexicans are warm and engaging. With the correct approach, the hours in building an emotional relationship with Mexican counter-part allow you into a world of family-type network. In this world of family network, everyone watches out for each other and paves the road for further connection and opportunities.

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