Business culture in LatAm

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Latin America (“LatAm”) has recently become a very attractive destination for the expansion of business activities. Any business exploring the abundance of possibilities of doing business in LatAm region must consider the cultural differences between its country of origin and the LatAm destination country and how the local culture will affect its business endeavors, negotiations and operations in the respective country. Culture is one of the most important variables to navigate in order to enter and operate in the LatAm market successfully. Lack of awareness and consideration of the cultural specifics of the respective market can easily lead to the failure of business endeavors. 

I already touched on this topic in my previous article – Peculiarities of doing business with LatAm. The present article is a continuation of the mentioned one. In the present article I am focusing on some additional key aspects that businessmen must pay attention to in business relations and in general doing business in LatAm.

–         Sense of personal space

Compared to European and American culture, Latin Americans have a significantly smaller sense of personal space. This also applies to business relationships. It is quite common for interlocutors to stand close to each other, look into each other’s eyes and occasionally casually touch each other (e.g. a touch on the upper arm). Even more, it is quite common for a Latin American businessman to hold his or her interlocutor’s elbow during a conversation and it is perceived rude and unkind to withdraw from this touch and can lead to distrust. Talking about personal space, it is also worth mentioning that it should come as no surprise to see people sitting very close together in business meetings, rather than each sitting at their own part of the table.

I can say from personal experience that as an European who is not used to this kind of personal closeness in a business context, this proximity was quite a challenge at first, but over time I got used to it and now perceive it as something completely normal. 

–         Names and titles

In light of the above, we might expect Latin Americans to be relaxed and informal when addressing each other in the context of business interactions. This is not the case. Latin American workplaces are very status conscious. As a rule, Latin Americans like to be addressed by their title in the workplace, followed by their last name. 

When working in a law firm in Ecuador, I remember hearing “licenciado” (attorney) and “doctor” all the time. At first, this seemed quite unusual to me, as this is not common in Slovenia, but then my colleagues explained to me that it is a way of respectfully addressing fellow lawyers and other professionals with higher education. From then on, I addressed my colleagues as my dear Latino co-workers. 

Given the above, I suggest always asking the Latin American interlocutor how he or she would like to be addressed. If this is not possible, we will make the least mistake if we stick to the general rule of addressing the interlocutor by title and surname, while using the formal “Usted”.

–         Concept of time

I dare to say that all Latin Americans have one thing in common – punctuality is not their strong point. This being said, it is not at all unusual for a Latin American to be up to 30 minutes late to a meeting. Nevertheless, it is expected from the foreign businessman to arrive to the meeting on time. That might seem a little unfair, but that’s the way it is.

–         Pleasure before business

As a rule, pleasure comes before business for Latin Americans. In order to develop and maintain a relationship with business partners, socializing is a key component. This being said, social events, dinners and other gatherings are common prior to doing business as well as a part of maintaining a business relationship. It is all about building a relationship, getting to know the other party on a personal level, establishing and fostering trust, etc., remember? 

I dare to say that by reading this article and the one mentioned above, you realized that for successful business in LatAm it is necessary to take into account quite a few aspects that are not present or not so prominent in our business environment. Given the importance of the matter, we will pay additional attention to this topic in the future.

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