To help business travelers avoid cultural problems when traveling to Chile, I interviewed cultural expert Gayle Cotton. Ms. Cotton is the author of the bestselling book, Say Anything to Anyone, Anywhere: 5 Keys To Successful Cross-Cultural Communication. Ms. Cotton is also a distinguished keynote speaker, an internationally-recognized authority on cross-cultural communication, and President of Circles Of Excellence Inc. Ms. Cotton has been featured on many television programs, including: NBC News, PBS, Good Morning America, PM Magazine, PM Northwest, and Pacific Report.
Ms. Cotton was happy to share tips with About.com readers to help business travelers avoid potential cultural problems when traveling.
What tips do you have for business travelers heading to Chile?
- In the Chilean business culture, try to deflect attention from yourself. The best strategy is to display a genuine interest in others.
- Chileans are a very patriotic people and will likely take offense at negative comments of any kind directed at their country.
- It’s a mistake to compare Chile to Argentina: there has been a great deal of conflict between them.
- Focus on questions related to their interests, whether they are sports, travel, cultural or life rather than very personal questions.
- Chileans perceive interruptions as a way of participating in conversations and displaying interest in what is being said. So, if you are interrupted, there is no need to take offense.
- Remember that Chileans tend to have an inherent sense of courtesy that sometimes causes them to say what they think they want you to hear, rather than give a candid response.
- Personal honor is very important to Latin American businesspeople. Refrain from publicly criticizing or patronizing others, and doing anything else that might create embarrassment.
- South Americans generally converse in closer proximity than North Americans so do your best to adapt to this practice. It may be taken personally if you back away from someone.
- Note that as friendships develop and solidify, handshakes are often followed by enthusiastic kissing, hugging and back patting. When you are in these situations, follow the lead of your Chilean counterparts, as they may take offense if you pull away.
- Chile can be a somewhat formal country. Third party introductions, through institutions such as banks and consulting firms, are often a necessary prelude to conducting business in Chile.
What is important to know about the decision making process?
- The Chilean business culture has a definite hierarchical order when it comes to decision making. You will be expected to defer to the most senior person present.
- Always observe the “chain of command” in negotiations.
Any tips for women?
- Chile is an easier place for women to conduct business than in many other parts of South America. However, businesswomen may still encounter some machismo.
- It’s best not to be pushy, and to build a comfortable rapport before getting down to business.
- Men almost always pay the bill in a restaurant and may be embarrassed if a woman attempts to pay.
Any tips on gestures?
- If you need to point, use the index finger. Pointing at other people, however, is often considered rude.
What are some good suggestions for topics of conversation?
- The positive aspects of Chilean history and current economy.
- Sports are an excellent topic. Popular sports include skiing and fishing.
- The Chilean culture, art and literature are excellent topics. Learn something about this in advance of your visit.
- Chile’s beautiful geography, landscape, lakes and vineyards.
- Food and wine are always good topics. Chile has marvelous wine, and is very proud of it and the industry it has created.
What are some topics of conversation to avoid?
- Don’t Criticize any aspect of Chile, even if your Chilean companions make these kinds of remarks.
- It’s best not to mention the countries surrounding Chile - Argentina, Bolivia, and Peru. There is a lot of competition between them.
- Don’t discuss human rights violations and the Araucarian Indians.