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Expanding your Company's Horizons

Doing Business in Latin America2013.06.24

    While cultural stereotypes may seem to pit “gregarious” Latin Americans and “reserved” Asians at opposite ends of the personality spectrum, these cultures actually share a number of commonalities that could lead to some extremely successful cross-cultural recruiting. In a nutshell, it’s about what body language, mannerisms, and communication styles can illustrate about a candidate during an interview. We realize that these regions both have rich and varied layers of culture, so we’re just talking broad strokes here, but there are some interesting points to note.


    1. Eye Contact


    In many Asian and Latin cultures, the playing field is uneven from the get-go. Experience and age earn seniority and respect, and employees are expected to keep this tradition alive in the workplace as well. So while walking into any interview anywhere with an inflated sense of who you are can be disastrous, even simple facial mannerisms that allude to overconfidence can fall flat in Latin and Asian countries.


    Eye contact is the perfect example. Westerners are taught to maintain eye contact as a sign of respect and engagement, but in Latin America and Asia, maintaining eye contact for too long can often be seen as a sign of being egotistical, or even of challenging authority—neither of which are impressions you want to make in an interview.


    2. We vs. Me


    In many Latin American and Asian cultures, the group is more important than the individual, and this is an important dynamic to obey in the workplace. In job interviews, candidates are less likely to brag about their own accomplishments, but rather highlight goals reached through teamwork.


    Successful candidates will discuss how they’re team players and show that they understand the value of working cooperatively toward a larger goal. Companies will be looking for someone who fits in, and so it’s important to highlight past accomplishments achieved through teamwork while avoiding putting too much emphasis on how you shine as an individual.


    You should still communicate your individual strengths though; you may just have to be more creative in doing so. Remember, your greatest strength may be how well you worked to help your team succeed.


    3. Speaking Indirectly


    Many Latin American and Asian languages, and their subsequent communication styles, favor indirect speech over direct proclamations. When giving an answer in an interview, it’s certainly important to stick to the question, but offering up too direct of a reply may come across as rude. This doesn’t mean that an interviewee can meander through an answer in an interview, but it does mean that using straight-talk to sell yourself isn’t exactly the way to go either.
    Instead, the road to an answer may be slightly more roundabout, and less of a brazen attempt to talk up your strengths. For example, in discussing a past team project, an interviewee might work in a way to highlight a specific role or task completed individually that assisted the team’s greater goal. This style of communication succeeds in showing your commitment to the team while also illustrating your unique skills and your effectiveness as a worker.


    4. Yes, Listening


    In any country, an interview is an exchange--between an interviewee and at least one interviewer. The interviewee is expected to speak about their background and experience of course, but he or she must also listen to the company representative being met with. Which is why it’s important to both know how to listen and how to show it.


    In both Latin and Asian cultures, it’s common to say Yes (or its equivalent) and nod your head repeatedly while listening to someone speak. This combination of verbal cues and gestures not only shows that you’re listening, but also encourages the speaker to continue. It is a sign of respect and not seen at all as distracting or interrupting, as it might be taken in some Western countries. In an interview in Asia or Latin America, staying silent and staring while someone is speaking might be interpreted as not being engaged in the conversation.


    5. Language of Respect


    Remember our first point about eye contact and respect? Well, showing respect is a big thing in both Latin and Asian cultures. So much so that it’s worked right into the language. In many Latin and Asian languages, a whole hierarchy of respect is woven into word choice and syntax. You would never address someone older than you in an informal way, and it’s very important for younger staff especially to show respect to senior staff in the workplace in the way they speak to them. So, the words you use while addressing your interviewer may matter as much as the content of what you’re saying.



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