Cultural tendencies in negotiation between Mexico und USA

How to communicate and negotiate successfully

Term Paper 2014 18 Pages

Politics - International Politics - Topic: International Organisations


Table of content

1 Introduction

2 Historical and political background

3 Social communication factors
3.1. Hierarchy
3.2.Individualism vs. Collectivism
3.3. Gender roles
3.4. Other values

4 USA and Mexico-differences in intercultural communication
4.1 Chronemics
4.3 Proxemics and Kinesics

5 Cultural interactions
5.1. Writtencommunication
5.2. Language and languagestyle

6 Negotiating successfully with Mexicans

7 Conclusion


1. Introduction

Difficulties in intercultural communication are seldom seen for what they are. When it becomes apparent to people of different countries that they are not understanding one another, each tends to blame "those foreigners,"for their stupidity, deceit, or craziness (...).[1]

As a result of globalization we are no longer dependent by distance or borders and where we do business. Due to a huge increase in global trade, learning more about how to do successfully international business is becoming more and more important. Therefore intercultural communication and negotiation is significant for success in a globalized workplace.

Becoming confident with different languages, communication styles, negotiation tactics, decision­making and cultural differences is the key factor for a good business relationship with other countries.

As a neighboring country and member of NAFTA, Mexico and his market had become very attractive for Americans. Although they are neighboring countries, there are big cultural differences between them which leads to misunderstanding and misinterpreting in private life as well as but in business contexts.

The purpose of this paper is in which areas of contact most commonly cause misunderstanding in intercultural communication between USA and Mexico. International negotiations deals not only with crossing borders, also with crossing cultures. Culture profoundly influences how people communicate, think and behave in business situations. Therefore the main questions in this paper are: How cultural aspects affect business communication between Mexico and the United States? How can business people profit from cultural awareness? Which rules do they have to follow for a successful negotiation?

In chapter 2 I will respond to the question how the historical and political background affects today's business relations and cultural differences. The focus in chapter 3 is set on culturally shaped perceptions, in 3.1. on Hierarchy, 3.2. Individualism vs. Collectivism, in 3.3. on gender roles and in 3.4. on other values like family-concepts, thought patterns, religion etc. All these factors influences daily interactions. The questions in this chapter are: how important is hierarchy in business negotiations and in which culture it plays a major role. How is an individualist society organized and how a collectivist one and how can this affect business situations? What about gender? Are woman in Mexican society are still “held back”? What other cultural issues do we have to consider while dealing with Mexican or American business people?

In chapter 4 I will analyze factors which are important for differences in intercultural communication (in Mexico and USA): in 4.1.1 will talk about time perception in Mexico and USA and the consequences for business and in 4.2. I will write about low-context and high-context- communicators. In 4.3. the question is how Kinesics and Proxemics affect communication between the neighboring countries and how they perceive these communication factors.

Than in chapter 5 I will focus on intercultural interactions: to be more precise about differences in written communication (5.1.) and language style (5.2.). In the penultimate chapter I will describe more detailed the Mexican negotiation style and what American business partners can do to avoid misunderstanding and how they can negotiate successfully with them. Finally in the last chapter I will summarize the most important points and results.

2. Historical and political background

For understanding the cultural differences between USA and Mexico it is inevitable to have a closer look at the historical and political background. At first sight there is to mention that the indigenous people of Mexico have an high impact on the today's Mexican culture. The civilization in Mexico was built on Maya-Quiche, Tascara, Zapotec, Aztec and other Indian cultures. The USA was also populated by indigenous people but in comparison to the Mexican natives the most part were not advanced.

The United States belong to the biggest ethic melting pot of modern history, but the majority of US. Citizens has European roots. In contrast to the North Americans which are proud of economic success and opportunity, Mexicans are proud ofbeing a fundamentally mestizo country.

Although Mexico is a mestizo country, the language, religion, culture and the government are occidental. Therefore Mexicans are living between two civilizations and two histories.[2] Edward Hall said that Americans look always to the future, so that the past is always present in contemplating the future. Mexico lives it history and it is still hurted by the loss of almost half of its territory (inter alia California, Arizona, Texas) to the United States in the nineteenth century. This loss is frequently cited by Mexican writers as a multilation. Furthermore Mexicans still resents the U.S. Military intervention in 1916. Therefore Mexicans perceive their relationships with the USA as marked by military invasions, armed conflicts and economic and cultural penetration. USA and Mexico will have a difficult time to overcome their bloody past. While Mexicans with their focus on history can't forget this negative historical events, most North Americans are not aware that the Mexican-American war and the American Invasion occurred. Therefore American business men communicating and negotiating with Mexicans should be sensitive to the importance of historical events.[3] Tracy Novinger states that Americans are considered by Mexicans to be ignorant of history, that most Americans don't know anything about Mexican history and that the average Mexican probably knows more about American history than the Americans about their own history. Foe example Mexico is mentioned on fewer than 8 pages of 752 of a fithgrade U.S. History book.

A last historical based factor that I like to mention in this chapter is that Mexicans define themselves as a culturally elite, because the were colonized and christianized by the Spanish people and mixed with ancient Amerindian civilizations.[4]

After we have learned more about the historical background of USA and Mexico now let's have a closer look at the political background. Both countries are democratic. In the USA the society is structured around the decentralized government and small families tend to operate independently while in Mexico society is structured mostly on a system of extended interdependent families and the government is centralized.[5]

One important political instrument is undoubtedly the border between the United States an Mexico which stretches 3,169 kilometers. The intention of this border is to reduce illegal immigration to the United States from Mexico. A lot of Mexican illegal immigrants who cross the U.S.-Mexico border and tries to reach California, Arizona or San Diego for a better life died in the desert because of dehydration or hypotermia.[6] The border had become a symbol for oppression and power and is still a vulnerable point for Mexicans:

(...) communication about this issue “raises sovereignty concerns that are particularly acute given the country's long and often painful history with its giant neighbor to the north. Because of Mexico's distrust, if the United States expresses a desire to intervene in Mexican affairs, whatever the declared motive, Mexico's first response is usually to refuse first-or sidestep-and ask questions later, even if the matter might deserve consideration.[7]

Intercultural communication between Mexico and the United States is negatively affected by the imbalance of power. In the past Mexicans have had more reasons to want or need to communicate with the the Americans than vice-versa, but as Mexico is experiencing a major shift in power, the interest from the American side is increasing.[8] As communication is a two way process, Americans will need to improve their intercultural competences and being more sensitive for cultural differences and of course also Mexicans should be aware of the same points.

3.Social communication factors

3.1. Hierarchy

Mexico has inherited a hierarchical social system from both Spain and its highly structured Amerindian civilizations that is steeper than the hierarchical structure of society in the United States. As a result, Mexicans are very class conscious and more formal about interpersonal relations than the North Americans.[9]

This formality became a key factor in Mexican society during the long Spanish colonial period and had remained until today personal and intimate. Therefore businesspersons from the USA should always introduce themselves, present a business card and pay attention to the information, name and title on any card the receive.

Without knowing and using the names of your business partners personal interactions can be difficult and misunderstanding could arise. Mexicans are more formal than Americans and would use their last name. For example the Name is Dr. Augustin Basave Fernandez del Valle one would correctly call him Dr. Basave because Basave is his father's surname and therefore his surname.

For Mexicans it is hard to understand why Americans use nicknames in Business or public occasions because in Mexico they only use nicknames in private occasions for family members and friends. For example they cannot understand why the former U.S. President William Clinton calls himself Bill Clinton. In contrast to the Mexicans, Americans use nicknames also on business-cards. Therefore American businessmen has to be aware of the fact that a nickname is not an acceptable form of address. Moreover titles are common in Mexico and to forget an title can be a serious insult.[10]

A good business relationship cannot be established instantly. Furthermore Mexicans don't like overfamiliarity, for example they find Americans to quick to begin conversations on a first-name basis, the custom of shortening names and also the custom of using nicknames is perceived as strange.[11]

Mexican businesspeople will judge their business partner by the level at which they approach the company. For example an important executive would never start at the bottom and work up. Therefore the business partner need to have sufficient rank and authority. Tracy Novinger suggests to begin the business negotiations always at the highest possible level, because where the business dealings starts is probably as high as the level you can reach.

Another important element in the Mexican social hierarchy is respect, but respect in the USA and respeto in Mexico differ a little bit in the meaning. While in the USA respect is linked to objective values of equality, democratic spirit and fairplay, in Mexico respeto is bounded to matters of power and possible threat.

Respeto in Mexico strictly requires deference and propriety toward other entities, such as older persons, family members, woman and the church. [12]

Mexicans who work together with North Americans in the USA should focus on a flatter hierarchy than they normally are used to and it's helpful to understand that Americans are trained to treat all people as being equal and that they may be unaware of the Mexican hierarchy system. The other way round Americans working in Mexico have to know that it is offensive to address a person in a powerful governmental or business position in a familiar manner. The big difference between the American and Mexican Hierarchy system is important for the business and daily interactions, because difference is a source of misunderstanding and misinterpretation.[13]

Mexico's hierarchical system also affects chronemics[14]: in offices subordinates neaver leave work before their boss. At first the person highest in rank will leave, then the middle ranking persons and the lower ranking persons will be the last to leave.[15]

3.2. Individualism vs. Collectivism

In this chapter I want to talk about the difference in individualistic and collective cultures because this is an important reason of intercultural communication misunderstanding.The Mexican culture is a collective one and the American is an individualistic culture.

American parents teach their children other values than the Mexican families, for example to take initiative, to be independent and to compete on a one-to one basis. So we can they that American children learn to cope actively with the events of life. For Mexican families other values are important: respect for elders and superiors, obedience and emotional dependence on the the family. The Mexican education approach leads to a more passive coping style for life events. Moreover the Mexican collectivist society depends and is organized around the extended family. That means that the group cooperation is a strong factor in decision-making and motivation. In comparison the Americans tend to be distant in personal interactions and their culture encourages competition and individual achievement.

In Mexico it is important to behave with humility and any show of arrogance or pride is seen as shameful. Therefore American behavior seems often to be arrogant to Mexicans.[16]

3.3. Genderroles

A culture influences gender roles and especially when these roles differ between cultures, in our case the gender roles in Mexico and USA, than it is really important to know the differences to avoid misunderstanding.

In Mexico machismo is practiced and this concept includes that the defense ofhonor, in this case the defense of masculinity is very important. For example if a man shows too much affection to his wife and demonstrate faithfulness it implies weakness or vulnerability. Furthermore the man has to conquer his wife and it is allowed to betray her. But for women this is not allowed. The concept of woman includes the Madonna-whore syndrome.[17] In Mexico women spend more time with their same sex because contact with men is often too complicated to be casual. Furthermore women are associated with the role of mothers and housewives and a lot of women suffer social pressure and pressure from their families when they want to make career.[18]

But because of recent economic conditions the situation changed. Nowadays more woman are working in order for their family to survive.

Certainly in many families at lower socioeconomic levels,Woman are becoming more independent because their income allows the family to eat, and they will no longer tolerate an authoritarian, abusive, or drunken husband. Traditional machismo is slowly being diluted.[19]

Due to the differences in gender roles North Americans should pay attention how to relate properly to the sexes in Mexico. For example if a male guest is invited for dinner at a Mexican home , it is important to address the flowers to the family and not to the wife (hostess).

If a situation is properly and polite in the Mexican culture it can be inappropriate in the American business culture, for example a businessman addresses a letter to both, the businesswoman and her husband, it is inappropriate in the USA. In comparison to the Mexican culture context his communication indicated respect. Due to recent changes of gender roles in Mexico it is impossible for an American woman to do business in Mexico without cultural awareness.[20]

Tracey summarizes the most important points in gender roles:

Mexico's high-context culture imposes more rules externally by context, as evidenced by the chaperone system. The high-context culture of Mexico also requires adherence to more rigid gender roles, and a woman is judged to be either decent or not by how she adheres to certain norms of behavior. If she is considered decent, then strict rules of respect apply. Some of the cross-cultural difficulties lie in the fact that behavior is acceptable for woman in North American culture is not acceptable in Mexico and is therefore misinterpreted.[21]

3.4. Other values

In the last chapters we investigated differences in hierarchy and gender roles and explained collectivism culture and individualism culture concepts. But there are also other values which differ in the Mexican and North American culture: the concept of family, religion, thought patterns and the work mentality.

As we learned in the last chapter the Mexican society is patriarchal. Moreover Mexicans see the American society as more nearly matriarchal. Also the meaning of loyalty differ in these two countries: in Mexico loyalty is associated with the extended family, whereas loyalty in the USA has shifted towards institutions such as an employer. An other important fact is that in economics the family plays a central role to Mexican society For example in a small Mexican factory most employees will be related or even entire families are brought into government bureaucracy by someone with influence. Moreover big economic firms in Mexico are family businesses.

But due to the economic difficulties in Mexico the traditional family structure is changing, as we have seen in the last chapter, for example that nowadays more woman are working.[22] The second value, which I like to explain is religion. Mexico is a predominantly Catholic country but the Church and State are separated. In many areas the religion is influenced by Amerindians beliefs and superstitions. For North Americans religion is a personal and private topic, whereas for Mexicans it is also a public matter and they show their religion everywhere and in everything.[23] Now I would like to talk about thought patterns. When it comes to decision-making in general the Mexicans will be more in touch with emotions, experience and feelings while the Americans will tend to act in a more abstract, detached and pragmatic manner. The difference in thought patterns in this two countries influences conflict resolutions and affects choice making.

As I mentioned before, Mexico is a high context culture ad therefore they tend to learn more by doing, demonstrations and rote while the American low-context culture focuses more on abstraction and problem solving. Due to the different thought patterns it can be difficult to share information and ideas because each communicator presents information in his own style.[24]

Not only thought patterns are different, also the attitude toward work and leisure is different. The word business means in Spanish negocio and leisure ocio, ne-gocio negates ocio, so business negates leisure. It is said that in the USA business comes first and leisure afterward.[25]

There is an typicaljoke in Mexico which refers to attitude towards work: “In Mexico the week has 7 days: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and mañana.” Although in Mexico work is very important but is balanced with other aspects of life but in the USA work has a stronger meaning: work is what you are, the foundation of your identity.[26]

4. USA and Mexico-differences in intercultural communication 4.1. Chronemics

Chronemics is the study of the use of time in communication and refers to the manner how people perceives and values time. Certainly the perception of time plays a big role in nonverbal communication processes and affects agendas, lifestyle and the willingness of the others to wait. Chronemics includes also punctuality, simultaneous activities and it also plays a role in establishing relationships. Tracy Novinger states that:

The frequent difficulties that arise in communication between monochronic and polichronic cultures typically provoke emotional reactions that range in intensity from irritation to anger. Therefore time, not surprisingly, is a major factor that causes misunderstanding between Mexicans and North Americans, because Mexico is a polychronic culture and the United States is predominantly monochronic. Although Mexicans react negatively to some North American chronemic cultural traits, Mexico's polychronic culture seems to pose a greater number of problems for North Americans.[27] 4.1.

It is not only a stereotype that Americans are always in a hurry and that say time is money, while Mexicans pay attention to the moment and prefer a slower pace. Moreover future time in Mexico is linked to fatalism which means that time is predestined: in business personal, large and fast profits are preferred instead of longterm institutional or business expansion plans as most American businessmen prefer. Mexicans are used to do many activities simultaneously while Americans tend to focus on a single activity when they are communicating. For example in the USA most people prefer to take turns when they are talking. In comparison to the American communication style the Mexicans are having two or more conversations at the same time. For business people it is very important to understand the differences in time values because it is an significant factor in communication between these two countries. But many Americans have problems to understand the unstructured measurement of time.[28]

Now I like to mention an another important characteristic of polychronic cultures: relationship building. In Mexico it takes time to establish relationships and when doing business there it is absolutely crucial. Moreover Mexicans value personal relationships with the business partner over the actual business tasks. There is an Mexican saying “Sin confianza no hay negocio” which means in English “Without trust there can be no business.” and refers to the established fact that relationship building is important in order to have any kind of success at all. For Mexicans it is important to know potential business partners personally before having any business negotiations.

Patti Keener gives us an example for this aspect with business letters. In Mexican business letters one can see how their emphasize relationship over business deals.

For example, the first paragraph of a business letter usually inquires about and mentions mutual acquaintances and family, reminding the reader of the relationship to the writer. It also may refer to the “honored ancestors” of the reader, or describe personal philosophies and beliefs. The actual purpose of the letter may only be mentioned briefly in the second or third paragraph. Then, the last paragraph of the letter goes back to the relationship again. It is considered bad taste to emphasize business over social relationships.[29]

It is very essential to make the Mexican business partners feel respected and valuated and not like anonymous business partners because there are very sensitive to this relationship topic. Therefore Americans should chat face to face with their Mexican potential partners, give them the feeling that they really want to know them. Only when they feel like the relationship has established enough than business can be mentioned. Another advice that Keener gives is business partners are asked to attend cultural events or go to museums never say no because it will show that they are suitable business partners. Moreover being impatient in building relationships will only lead to failure.[30] Also Tracy Novinger hands out the same advice and adds that foreign business executives should establish close personal relationships with their managers from the beginning, to find something out about family backgrounds and spend time with them outside the office.[31]


[1] Hall, Edward T. (1973): The silent language. New York: Anchor books, page 2.

[2] Tracy Novinger (2001): Intercultural Communication. A practical guide. Texas: University of Texas Press. Page 82­83.

[3] Ibid. Page 84-85.

[4] Ibid Page 86.

[5] Ibid. page 89.

[6] http://education.nationalgeographic.com/education/media/tijuana-border-fence/?ar_a=1

[7] Novinger, Tracy page 91, line 22-28.

[8] Ribando Seelke, Claire (2014): Mexico: Background and U.S. Relations. Washington D.C. : Congressional Research Service, page 9.

[9] Tracy Novinger, page 87, line 10-14.

[10] Ibid. page 142.

[11] Ibid. page 87.

[12] Ibid. page 88, line 27-28

[13] Ibid. page 89.

[14] In chapter 4.1.I will talk about chronemics.

[15] Ibid page 114.

[16] Ibid. page 92-93.

[17] A psychological complex, first identified by Sigmund Freud. Men see woman as either Saintly Madonnas or debased prostitutes.

[18] Ibid. page 95.

[19] Ibid. page 97, line 13-16.

[20] Ibid. page 97-98.

[21] Ibid. page 98, line 22-31.

[22] Ibid page 94.

[23] Ibid. page 98-99.

[24] Ibid. page 104.

[25] Ibid page 105.

[26] Agar, Michael (1994): The interculturalframe. In: International Journal of Intercultural Relations. Vol.18, No.2 pp. 221-237. Elsevier Science Ltd. Printed in the USA., page 230.

[27] Tracy Novinger, page 109, line 18-24.

[28] Keener, Patti (2000): Improving intercultural relations and Communication in International business: Mexico and Japan.Tenesse: University of Tenesse Research, page 18.

[29] Ibid page 110, line 4-11.

[30] Ibid. Page 17-18.

[31] Novinger, Tracy page 112.


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USA Mexico cultural tendencies negotiation intercultural communication




Title: Cultural tendencies in negotiation between Mexico und USA