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Business etiquette

The importance of building connections

Mexicans tend to conduct business only with people with whom they have an existing relationship, so it is important for expats employed in Mexico to understand the process by which business partnerships are formed. Networks are of paramount importance when doing business in Mexico, as the focus on personal relationships means that Mexicans will almost never do business with strangers.

This requires expats to use intermediaries from within their networks to facilitate introductions to potential new clients and partners. The intermediary will act as a bridge between the human faces of the two business organisations. Care should be taken to ensure that the person acting as the go-between actually has the contacts that they claim to have and that they are not expecting a fee for their services. Always use your professional network to facilitate business introductions and to ensure that you know and trust the intermediary.

First impressions

Initial meetings should not be considered an opportunity to talk business. The function that they serve is to begin the process of getting to know one another and should be considered relatively informal situations. That said, it is expected that all attendees at business meetings will dress appropriately. For women, this might be a classic business suit with heels and a blouse, and for men, a classically tailored suit with shirt and tie. Even for less formal occasions, the advice is to look relaxed but polished.

Business cards should be dual sided (Spanish/English), and presented Spanish side up, showcasing both professional and educational qualifications. It is vital to ensure that the name and title of the company representative is noted, as social hierarchies are held in high esteem, and someone’s official title plus surname should always be used until such a time as an invitation is extended requesting the use of less formal (usually first name) terms. Immediate reciprocation is expected.

Easy-going but productive meetings

The cancellation of business meetings (often at what would be considered very late notice in the U.K. or U.S.) is common practice in Mexico, so an arranged meeting should be requested and confirmed in writing two to four weeks in advance, confirmed a week before it is due to take place and confirmed again on the day of the meeting itself. Mexicans tend to have a less rigid sense of time than people from the U.K. or U.S., so while punctuality is important for expats (to show respect), it will not be unusual (or disrespectful) for Mexicans to arrive up to half an hour late for an arranged meeting.

When beginning a meeting, it’s usual for men to shake hands with other men, but to await an invitation to shake the hands of any women present. Women can initiate handshaking with men, but they tend to touch other women on the shoulder or arm as an alternative to handshaking.

Any documentation required for a business meeting should always be presented in Spanish and English, and it is not common practice to use agendas – they are likely to be disregarded even if they are presented.

Due to the Mexican focus on social status, it is important that an executive is present on all negotiating teams; to arrive at an important negotiation without one would be deemed extremely disrespectful and a sign of a company’s inability to take its business seriously. The negotiation process is likely to take a considerable amount of time in Mexico, and deadlines are seen as flexible rather than fixed. Delays are common, and non-Mexicans should not perceive such behaviour as disrespectful or an attempt to derail negotiations. It is important that negotiation teams do not include lawyers, as this will be taken as a sign of aggression or lack of trust.

Expats should expect to be asked about their family situations (marital status, children, etc.), and it is prudent for details about a potential client/business partner’s own family situation to be noted and memorised for future reference. Due to the centrality of the family in Mexican culture and the focus on personal relationship-building in the business context, the line between work and home is much more blurred in Mexico than it is in the U.K. or U.S. It’s common for colleagues and clients to socialise together at the weekend, often with their families (including children), and in each other’s homes. The sense of camaraderie and personal, mutual disclosure built through this type of familial socialising facilitates business deals, lowers the risks associated with undertaking business deals with new clients/partners, and creates and maintains often lifelong bonds of trust.

Socialising with business colleagues and clients

Business meetings conducted over a meal tend only to start before the 2 p.m. siesta time. Business discussions can legitimately take place in the morning over breakfast, or in the early afternoon over lunch, but any evening mealtime socialising is expected to be free of business talk. When organising a business lunch, it would be wise to set aside three to four hours, as the social aspect of a lunch meeting will take precedence over the business part and any business should not be discussed until coffee is served. Meetings should be avoided on, or around, any public holidays.

Mexicans tend to use an indirect communication style, meaning that they are unlikely to openly disagree or refuse to do something. It is worth international people wanting to work in Mexico taking time to understand the ways in which indirect communication styles work, in order to avoid causing offence and to ensure proper understanding (the subtext) of what is being communicated. Additionally, Mexicans’ sense of personal space is much smaller than is the norm in Europe or the U.S., so expats may find themselves being approached at uncomfortably close quarters. It is important not to back away from this close contact, as offence will be caused.

Finally, the prolonged eye contact that is the norm in the U.K. and U.S. – where such eye contact indicates attention and sincerity – is not acceptable behaviour in Mexico, and care should be taken to avoid staring or maintaining direct eye contact in both business and social contexts.

Be sensitive to the pace and tone of the way that Mexicans speak and do business. Even if it presents a striking difference to the way things are done in your home country, embracing the family-centred, connected culture will make for a happier and healthier working environment.

Socialising in someone’s home 

If you receive an invitation to socialise in someone’s home, the following basic rules will apply:

  • It’s usual to bring a gift of flowers, sweets or something traditional from your home country. Gifts will be opened immediately upon receipt, but care should be taken to avoid red flowers, as they are associated with witchcraft and black magic in Mexican culture, and marigolds should be similarly avoided, as they are traditionally associated with death and funerals. White flowers are considered uplifting (white negates the power of black magic), so would be welcomed. Flowers should, however, be sent ahead of time rather than being personally delivered.
  • Invitees should arrange to arrive around 30 minutes after the designated arrival time, and if Mexican colleagues are also on the invitation list, it would be prudent to check with them whether an even later arrival is expected.
  • If the party is small, the host will usually make the introductions, but at larger gatherings it is reasonable to assume that invitees can introduce themselves.
  • Guests should not sit down at the table until the host has directed them to their allocated seat.
  • When eating a formal meal, hands should be kept visible and on the table with wrists resting lightly on the table edge.
  • The meal does not start until the hostess begins eating.
  • Only men propose toasts.
  • When you have finished your meal, the fork should be placed prongs-down, and the handles of both knife and fork should point right (i.e. the handles should point to the 3 o’clock position on the plate).
  • Bearing in mind the connotations of the colour red in Mexico, a red pen should never be used to write someone’s name. 

There’s nothing like a little local knowledge to help you bring out the very best in yourself, both in the office and when socialising with colleagues. And this is never more true than when you’re moving to a new country with its own customs and ways of doing things. We’re local experts on a global scale when it comes to health care cover, so talk to us today and we’ll pass on the benefit of what we know.

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