Meeting & Greeting successfully—Latin America
Hofstede found Latin American countries to have relatively high Power Distance. This correlates to a larger gap between genders and their functions in society. In cultures high on this scale, women assume more traditional homemaker responsibilities, while men are expected to fill the role of the “working male.” These attitudes are increasingly changing across Latin America, and vary a great deal between rural and urban areas as well as by nation. Nevertheless, these gender values remain strong in the cultural fabric of the region.
A woman is expected to extend her hand to a man first upon meeting him. A man must reciprocate with a good firm handshake. Out of respect, men do not initiate a greeting with a woman they do not know in a business setting. The basic greeting between two women is a kiss on each cheek. The correct way to do this is to always start on the left and lightly touch cheeks. Once a relationship has been established, Latin Americans are very warm and affectionate, and will exchange many hugs and kisses between friends and colleagues.
A large amount of Power Distance also explains the importance of status and the significant gaps between social classes. Titles should be used when meeting and greeting for the first time. Use a title, first name, and surname to correctly address someone. Most colleagues are friends, and function on a first-name basis; however, until you have established a connection it is best to remain formal.
Latin Americans are relaxed in their communication style and prefer to ease business into a casual conversation over a meal. During meetings, you should not begin to speak of business before your host. Casual chatting will most often begin all business negotiations. It is not uncommon to discuss family matters at work and to seek advice. Good conversation topics include sports, art, history, and family. Avoid topics like politics, poverty, religion, or neighboring countries.
There are no rigid time limits, and deadlines are used as a guideline. Priority is placed upon the quality of your communications rather than the quantity. Although according to Hofstede Latin nations are Goal-oriented and Masculine, the concept of time is not Linear but rather Circular. Do not expect your host to arrive on time; however, as a foreigner, it is a good idea to be punctual.
Because of the status hierarchy, most organizations are extremely bureaucratic. A combination of this fact and the need to build personal connections results in a very lengthy negotiation process. Be sure to be as flexible as possible in how much time you devote to meetings and events here, as it is critical to intercultural business success.