Refining your Business Etiquette with Mexican Clients

Business transactions in Mexico can differ somewhat from those in the U.S. and Canada. Certainly some of the laws and procedures are not the same, that is a given, but another consideration is the etiquette of Mexican culture. Here are some ways that Mexicans differ from our Northerners:

A handshake upon greeting someone is extremely important. And, frequently, even a short embrace, if you are more familiar. Also, it is not uncommon to kiss a woman on the side of one cheek, if you have met her on a number of occasions.

Mexicans don’t have the same concern for personal physical space as many U.S. and Canadian residents do. Generally, they stand and sit in in closer proximity to another person. In fact, it’s considered quite rude to move away from someone. If you are attending a meeting, or dining with a group of people, it is viewed asextremely rude to have your back facing someone in the party.

Depending upon where you are in Mexico, and the level/status of the businessperson or individual that you are meeting, time and punctuality is a slightly different concept. In a relaxed town like Puerto Vallarta (where I spend a lot of time), thirty minutes past a scheduled meeting is not unusual if the meeting is less formal. If it is more formal, people usually are good about being on time. So, plan accordingly.

Negotiations may also tend to move more slowly, and may require some patience. Also, Mexicans really like to build a personal relationship prior to a professional one. So always expect at least ten to fifteen minutes of small talk before getting down to business. Mexicans really respect people who take time to consider a proposal before agreeing to anything. Quick decisiveness is viewed as hasty and imprudent.

Important negotiations and deals almost never occur over the phone or via email. Mexicans prefer to do business in person. If, for some reason you cannot be present at an important meeting, always choose your local contact person or representative VERY carefully.

Also, be persistent! Don’t give up if you don’t receive a response to your phone calls or emails right away, or if your meetings are continually postponed or canceled. If you give up, your Mexican counterparts might assume that you weren’t serious in the first place. And be aware that deadlines are often little more than general target dates.

Having lived in both the United States and Mexico, I would say that in the U.S. there is a more laid-back style of business interactions. It’s not uncommon to see very casual attire at business meetings these days. Especially in the youth oriented Dot.com culture. Some, but not all of this has crept down to Mexico. Certainly the beach resort influence of Puerto Vallarta (not to mention the hot weather) makes people dress more comfortably, but, we are still somewhat formal when it comes to important business engagements, and a dressing up in business attire is expected for both men and women.

Note: If you are invited to visit the home of a Mexican business associate, it’s best to wear business attire unless specifically told otherwise (beach party, etc.).

Helpful Hints:

Any attempt to speak Spanish is appreciated by Mexican counterparts. Demonstrating knowledge and appreciation of Mexican culture will always win friends. Mexico is a proud and patriotic country and has a very strong sense of national identity. Never compare the way things are done in Mexico with the way they are done in the United States, and Canada.

Little things count. Not saying hello and good-bye, for example, may well offend and adversely affect your relationship to a much greater extent than it would in the United States.

In the end, so much cultural exchange has occurred, via immigration and the media, that some customs have fallen a little by the wayside. And, admittedly, Puerto Vallarta is such an amazing melting pot of cultures, and people, that in a lot of ways, pretty much anything goes, though, Mexico is still very traditional, so keep this in mind when working with our friends across the border.

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