Cultural Differences: Relationships with Coworkers

Cultural Differences:
Relationships with Coworkers

This Definitely Ain’t Kansas Anymore.

One of the cultural differences that has stood out most to me in dealing with my coworkers has to do with time.

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As an American, when I’m pressed for time I tend to rush around and minimize on little polite niceties. I just started a new position at my school which has increased my stress level 100 fold. I’ve been doing a job by myself that really should have two people to fill it. A side benefit of the job has been an opportunity to learn more about the cultural differences between our two countries. Anyway, I’ve been pressed for time.

My coworkers began to give me stony-faced looks and say less and less to me. I’ve been in Mexico long enough to recognize this as a sign of trouble. No one was short with me. No one confronted me. No one disguised a comment about my behavior as a joke. No one took me aside to ask what was the matter. They just got really quiet. Don’t expect Mexicans to tell you that they have a problem. They won’t. (By the same token you should NEVER scold them.)

I realized that by coming into their offices, requesting what I needed; such as a stapler, or the answer to a question, then leaving, I was cutting off their ability to maintain FAVOR RELATIONSHIPS with me.

The American paradigm that I was using was that they were busy too and that I should take as little of their time as possible. In fact, it would have been rude to stay longer than necessary and bother them. Americans hate to have their time wasted and therefore try not to waste other people’s time. My Mexican coworkers felt used. I came and got what I needed, but they didn’t feel welcome to ask me for something in return.

From the outside this cultural difference seems totally selfish. They won’t do favors if they can’t have one in return! It’s “You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.” Or rather “I’ll scratch your back if you’ll scratch mine first.” In fact, it’s not selfish, it’s reciprocal as described in Cultural Differences in Friendships and Favor Networks .

I was focused on producing, producing, producing. In my mind they were totally welcome to come into my office and take whatever they wanted. But they did not FEEL welcome to ask me for favors. Without the polite niceties and the time to exchange them, they were left with a very yucky feeling.

An outgrowth of learning this cultural difference is the realization that my coworkers don’t care how hard I work, nor how much I produce. They care how well I RELATE to them and how strong our favor relationships are.

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