LivingTravelCultural tips for doing business in Chile

Cultural tips for doing business in Chile

To help business travelers avoid cultural issues when traveling to Chile, we spoke with cultural expert Gayle Cotton. Ms. Cotton is the author of the best-selling book, Say Anything to Anyone, Anywhere: 5 Keys to Successful Cross-Cultural Communication. Ms. Cotton is also a prominent keynote speaker, an internationally recognized authority on cross-cultural communication, and President of Circles Of Excellence Inc. Ms. Cotton has appeared on many television shows including NBC News, PBS, Good Morning America, PM Magazine , PM Northwest and Pacific Report.

Ms. Cotton was happy to share these tips to help business travelers avoid potential cultural issues when traveling.

What advice do you have for business travelers heading to Chile?

  • In Chilean business culture, try to divert attention from yourself. The best strategy is to show a genuine interest in others.
  • Chileans are a very patriotic people and are likely to be offended by negative comments of any kind directed at their country.
  • It is a mistake to compare Chile with Argentina: there has been a great conflict between them.
  • Focus on questions related to your interests, be it sports, travel, culture, or life, rather than very personal questions.
  • Chileans perceive interruptions as a way of participating in conversations and showing interest in what is being said. So if you are interrupted, there is no need to be offended.
  • Remember that Chileans tend to have an inherent sense of courtesy that sometimes makes them say what they think they want them to hear, rather than giving an honest answer.
  • Personal honor is very important to Latin American entrepreneurs. Refrain from publicly criticizing or sponsoring others, and from doing anything else that may create embarrassment.
  • South Americans generally converse in closer proximity than North Americans, so do your best to adapt to this practice. It can be taken personally if you walk away from someone.
  • Keep in mind that as friendships develop and solidify, handshakes are often followed by kisses, hugs, and pats on the back. When you find yourself in these situations, follow the lead of your Chilean counterparts, as they may be offended if you withdraw.
  • Chile can be a somewhat formal country. Third-party submissions, 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?

  • Chilean business culture has a defined hierarchical order when it comes to making decisions. It is expected to differ from the oldest person present.
  • Always observe the “chain of command” in negotiations.

Any advice for women?

  • Chile is an easier place for women to do business than in many other parts of South America. However, business women can still find some machismo.
  • It is best not to be pushy and build a comfortable relationship before starting work.
  • Men almost always pay the bill at a restaurant and can be embarrassed if a woman tries to pay.

Any advice on gestures?

  • If you need to point, use your index finger. Pointing at other people, however, is often considered rude.

What are some good suggestions for conversation starters?

  • The positive aspects of Chilean history and the current economy.
  • Sports are an excellent subject. Popular sports include skiing and fishing.
  • Chilean culture, art, and literature are excellent subjects. Learn about this before your visit.
  • The beautiful geography, landscape, lakes and vineyards of Chile.
  • Food and wine are always good topics. Chile has wonderful wine and is very proud of it and the industry it has created.

What are some conversation starters to avoid?

  • Do not criticize any aspect of Chile, even if your fellow Chileans make such comments.
  • It is better not to mention the countries that surround Chile: Argentina, Bolivia and Peru. There is a lot of competition between them.
  • Do not discuss the violations of human rights and the Araucanian Indians.

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