Mexico and Central America, Part 5: Meetings and Negotiations

There are two different types of business meetings in Mexico and Central America: a meeting between peers and a meeting between unequals. Both have different goals and are conducted differently.

Between Peers: With the high status of participants having been established, meaning that all the formalities of going through lower channels of subordinate communications, these business associates can communicate openly sharing ideas. These meetings act as forums for sharing ideas and making decisions, and everyone is expected to contribute to the general decision making process (as the need for group consensus dictates). Discussions may be loud and vibrant with everyone talking at once with all comfortable with their position to pay attention to formalities. In these meetings questions are common and interruptions expected. Imagine this as different heads of households coming together to, say, make a decision about a city ordinance that affects your neighborhood. Each is comfortable and secure in their position as head of house and sees each participant as his peer, and feels like (s)he can speak freely.

As opposed to meetings…

Between Non-Peers (or Unequals): Meetings between subordinates (of all different levels) are typically more formal as it is the beginning of relationships that hopefully culminates in the dialogues mentioned above. These meetings are usually called by the decision-makers to gather information, clarify goals, and/or formulate action plans. There is no real sharing of ideas or efforts at problem solving. This first meeting is to really size up the other company. Your goal should be to establish compatibility and mutual respect (simpatico), be warm and dignified, and make a good impression. Similar to parents sending their children to play with other children on the street, collect basic information and get a general idea of compatibility and intentions, in other words lay the groundwork for heads of house to meet.

Once in the position to present proposals come well prepared. Your presentations should be carefully planned, logically organized, and beautifully presented with interesting visual aides (charts, graphs, and handouts)—remember how important it is to look successful, make yourself a force to be reckoned with! Bargaining is an expected way of negotiating, as ingrained in society and present in small shops and markets. Bargaining is an instrument to building trust so be reasonable, don’t divulge information easily, and don’t overcompensate (you don’t want to appear easy!). Bargaining is a tool used across the world as a way to build a relationship where both sides seem to appear to win. It’s a game and you are expected to play! Like contracts in China, contracts in Central America are seen as legal formalities, which can be altered if there is a need. Families and their extended networks help each other out, they take care of each other, you are marrying into the Central American family and the business!

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