Mexico’s relative isolation from other Latin American countries may be the reason it has retained many traditional practices and values that are beginning to shift in some of the other Latin American cultures.  Some of these include emphasis on family, hierarchy and religious tradition. Because of Mexico’s proximity to the United States, there is sometimes an assumption that Mexico has adopted U.S. business practices. Many people are surprised to find traditional attitudes in very modern workplaces.

Traditional Mexican Worldview

Group Orientation
Identity defined by group, family

Harmony through face-saving indirectness

Relationship Focused
Business is personal; relationship is primary

Strongly hierarchical; roles are key

Need for Certainty
Expect structure, guidance; minimize risks

Rules are applied based on relationships and context

Fluid Time
Scheduling is necessary but punctuality is for subordinates; power makes people wait; socially, time is quite fluid

Cultural Note:

  • Mexican institutions are under increasing popular pressure to create a more democratic society, but progress is slow.
  • Government and business are inseparable, and neither exists for the well being of the masses.

Cultural Assumptions

  • Emotional sensitivity highly valued
  • Role is tied to status and is not confined to the workplace
  • An honor/shame culture; saving face through indirect communication is key
  • Passion and emotional sensitivity are respected and admired.
  • Leadership through strength and charisma; patriarchal.
  • Strong class distinctions and clear formal hierarchies
  • Formality pervades the upper class social environment
  • Gender role differentiation is strong and evident in omnipresent machismo
  • Strong Catholic background dictates a fatalistic view and frequent ending of statements with “God willing.”
  • Pleasure, work, and family are not separated
  • Mexico has a proud history (and ambivalence about its relationship with the USA)

Traditional Mexican Communication Style

Imply/suggest what is meant.  You need to read between the lines.

High Context
Background information assumed depending on nature of relationship

Sensitive to position and age; politeness and courtesy valued

Emotionally Expressive
Trust and credibility established by displaying emotion in communications.  Visible display of feelings through nonverbal behavior


Guidelines for Communicating with Mexicans

  • Facility with language and comfort with public speaking is admired and a sign of good education, a requirement of the upper class. Love of flair and foreign phrases.
  • When possible, speak more formally with management, as language serves to reinforce hierarchy.
  • Use titles and formal forms of address whenever possible, and indicate your position clearly on your business card.
  • Try not to react negatively to emotional expression and put as much passion as you can tolerate into your own.  Persuasion is accomplished through passionate commitment to one’s perspective, not through cold factual logic.
  • Clothing and status are mutually reinforcing; business dress is more formal in Mexico, and one’s clothes communicate strongly.
  • Always emphasize the positive, especially where the negative is all too obvious.
  • Expect to frequently hear what you’d like to hear, even when it is not the factual truth.  The situation will dictate whether the factual truth can be told. Simpatía counts for more than objectivity.
  • You will never lose social points for excessive praise.

Non-Verbal Dynamics

Women pat each other on the right forearm rather than shaking hands. Friends often hug and exchange cheek kisses.  People nod to acknowledge each other at social functions. Hand movements add expressiveness to speech.

Embracing on greeting, emotionally warm handshakes, considerable same-sex touching of hand to shoulder or holding other’s upper arm, clapping a hand on someone’s upper back.

Close personal distance for communication with lots of physical touching. Withdrawal is seen as unfriendly, rejecting.

Business Practices

PROBLEM SOLVING Intuitive, with broad consideration of context.; responsibility of leadership. Generally crisis-oriented, with little long term planning.
MOTIVATING PEOPLE Job security, superior’s interest in personal well-being, and limiting risk through clear direction
APPRAISING PERFORMANCE Informal observation by superior more common than formal process
NEGOTIATING, PERSUADING Indirectness is more common than confrontation; positions may be passionately, but not aggressively , expressed. Always there is appeal to personal relationship.
DECISION MAKING PROCESS Hierarchical with most decisions coming from a few people at the top. Decisions are formulated slowly in a very calculated manner and may take several visits to finalize. Process is both fact-based and intuitive. Contracts may not be final and can be re-negotiated.
PARTICIPATION IN MEETINGS Traditionally autocratic, top down; responsibility of leader. Input from subordinates may be limited.
Authoritarian, with obedience and loyalty expected and rewarded. Firm direction provided by superior.
HIRING Still more relationally than skills or qualifications based in many environments. Dismissal only for gross performance problems (or loyalty issues)
CUSTOMER RELATIONS Highly relational with service dictated by strong favoritism