Understanding Mexican Business Culture
September 10, 2020
Mexican business culture is distinct from business culture in the United States, which has the potential to present challenges during negotiations. Though there is probably more common ground between business cultures than you realize, it is important to understand the differences as well. It’s important for US companies in Mexico to recognize and understand these differences to cultivate and manage successful business relationships in Mexico.
The Importance of Family
Family is central in Mexican culture, and it is essential to understand this to forge lasting relationships in the country. Corporate and business culture in Mexico is heavily influenced by Mexican family culture.
A key cultural difference between us and Mexico is that there are not as distinct boundaries between the business and family realms as there are in the United States. For example, Mexican businesses engage with the emphasis on family found more broadly in Mexican culture by celebrating popular family holidays such as Christmas or Our Lady of Guadalupe. It is also not uncommon for companies to have days where they invite the family to the workplace. Many companies also offer Family-centered benefits such as on-site childcare or training for spouses as a way to support the families of workers.
Corporations in Mexico have a family-leaning culture that is distinct from the United States. The ways in which Mexican culture values family is reflected in many areas of Mexican business culture. In Mexico, it is common for family members to take successive leadership roles within an organization, though not all businesses are alike in that regard. However, that doesn’t mean that individuals in a leadership role are not qualified for that position. It is important to recognize that your Mexican corporate peers are highly-skilled, educated, and trained. Many are multi-lingual and have worked internationally.
Tradition, Religion and Business
Corporate sponsorship of family-centered events and holidays also touches on the important role that tradition plays in Mexican business culture.
An example of this can be found in individual religious traditions can be blended into the Mexican workplace. While in the United States open representations of religion in the workplace are generally frowned upon, U.S. businessmen and women should recognize the central role that religion occupies in Mexican society, and not be shocked to see open religious practice in work or public spaces.
Also, be aware that religion is just one example of how Mexican cultural traditions influence Mexican business culture. Mexican business structures can be described as a benevolent paternal structure, which is directly influenced by the broader Mexican culture as a whole. In a Mexican corporate environment, this might be seen in the close relationships that founders and managers maintain with their workers. It is also seen in the strong sense of loyalty that Mexican workers demonstrate to their employers.
Mexican business culture, while heavily influenced by family dynamics, is also relatively conservative. This is reflected in the traditional dress code within the business environment, which is much more conservative than in the United States. This conservative dress code holds true for professionals of both genders as well.
Communication and Context
Understanding the important role of context in communication is crucial for understanding Mexican business culture. Is Mexico a high-context culture? Yes.
In high-context cultures like Mexico, dynamics external to the conversation can play a big role in communication. Things such as personal relationships, family, and the specific relationship between speakers and their relative power all contribute meaning to the conversation. Nonverbal communication in Mexico, along with body language and gestures should be considered an important component of communication.
This can all be boiled down to a simple principle; maintain an awareness not only of what is being said but also how something is said. Understand that context is important to the conversation, and always maintain an awareness of what contexts might be influencing what is being said. Take the time to understand mexican gestures and body language, as this can provide important context for your business conversations and small talk.
While understanding whether Mexico’s high or low context culture can shed light on how conversations can be imbued with meaning beyond the words that are being used, it is also important to understand how conflict minimization influences communication within a business setting. Mexican business culture prioritizes conflict avoidance, which often leads to communication which is indirect. This may be one of the mexican norms and behaviors that presents a challenge during business negotiations. Your Mexican counterpart may not be as willing to simply say “no” to a proposal they don’t agree with.
This trend towards indirect communication can often be seen in the use of the passive voice when speaking. It may also result in less eye contact in Mexico during business negotiations than you are used to. But don’t be mistaken to think this is a universal truth, or that a Mexican counterpart will never be assertive or direct. The tendency to indirectly communicate and avoid conflict varies by region, and varies depending on the individual, their place in the company, and their relationship with you.
Culture in Mexico is complex and has been influenced by political, economic, historical and societal factors. This influence is felt throughout Mexican business culture and extends even to how your Mexican counterparts view time.
You may have never thought of punctuality or timeliness as something that is influenced by culture. When operating in Mexico, it is important not to make generalizations or stereotypes based on your own cultural perceptions. How business is conducted in Mexico may be a little different from what you are used to. For example, “on-time” in Mexico may actually mean someone arrives 10-15 minutes late. This is not uncommon, nor is it necessarily considered rude or even noteworthy. Of course, context matters, and being late to an important meeting with a superior can certainly be viewed as rude within certain contexts.
Instead, a business lunch with peers may have a more casual atmosphere, particularly in regards to a definitive start or end-time. Understand that the time with you is the important thing. Building trust between business partners is essential in Mexican business culture, and cultivating a trusting relationship takes time. A lengthy business lunch is not a sign that your counterparts are lazy or don’t understand the importance of time. Instead, a lengthy lunch can be viewed as a time to invest in deepening the business relationship and can be capitalized on as an important time to build trust.
Mexican culture is complex, and the Mexican business culture is no different. When doing business in Mexico, approaching your business relationships with an open mind and being willing to learn about the culture is a strong starting point.
If you’re considering moving your manufacturing to Mexico and are ready to learn more about doing business in Mexico, contact our team today!
- Davila, Anabella and Hartmann, Andreas, “Tradition and Modern Aspects of Mexican Corporate Culture.” Mexican Business Culture: Essays on Tradition, Ethics, Entrepreneurship and Commerce and the State, edited by Coria-Sanchez, Carlos Mateo, and John T. Hyatt, McFarland & Company, 2016.
- Hyatt, John T., “Communication in Mexican Business.” Mexican Business Culture: Essays on Tradition, Ethics, Entrepreneurship and Commerce and the State, edited by Coria-Sanchez, Carlos Mateo, and John T. Hyatt, McFarland & Company, 2016.
- Hernandez-Pozas, Olivia and Madero-Gomez, Sergio, “Looking at Time and Business with the Mexican Lense.” Mexican Business Culture: Essays on Tradition, Ethics, Entrepreneurship and Commerce and the State, edited by Coria-Sanchez, Carlos Mateo, and John T. Hyatt, McFarland & Company, 2016.