The Harvard Business Review
interviewed 82 managers from 33 different countries in four regions of the world identified by the World Bank as the “engines of the global economy”: East Asia, the Middle East and South Asia, North America and Europe, and Latin America. The managers they interviewed were diverse in terms of gender and age, and they represented various industries and business functions.
The managers were asked, “How do people in your culture determine if a potential business partner is trustworthy?” Their answers revealed systematic cultural differences in how trustworthiness is interpreted and the implications for how managers should approach these partnerships.
Below are the findings for Latin America:
Importance of Similar Values
In Latin American cultures, the social relationship comes first, and the business second. Shared values are the primary criteria for judging trustworthiness.
“Find out if (they) have same values as you do.” — manager from Brazil
“They trust me because they think that I am similar to them.” — manager from Colombia
“If you perceive that there are values that are not shared … that is where you decide [whether] things can continue … or [whether you’re] not really willing to have the next conversation.” — manager from Bolivia
According to this research, Latin American managers rely on the opinions of others as a first step in determining the trustworthiness of a potential new business partner. The main focus of these managers was eliminating those with poor reputations.
A manager from Mexico stated, “If you heard one guy wants to make an alliance with you, and three or four former shareholders say that he’s very corrupt … I think that’s very, very important, because … if he stole from other guys, he will [probably] do it to you” (Harvard Business Review
As made evident in the testimonials below, assessing shared values required making a personal connection.
“Before negotiation, engage in social contact — no business talk.” — manager from Nicaragua
“[Small talk] in Latin America is very important…and a good way that we’ve found to do it is by sharing a meal. We try not to talk business. We just get to meet each other … see if we have things in common. Most of the time, we do.” — manager from Mexico
“When you get them talking about their family, about something that they like talking about … even if you try … you cannot hide yourself … for the whole two hours. There will be like five minutes where you’re going to show your true colors, right? That’s what you want to see. … Are they open? Are they transparent? Or are they shady? Are they suspicious? [You want to see] their true self, the one that you’re going to be working with.” — manager from Chile
How Do You Assess Trust with Potential Business Partners?
Full participation in social activities. Partners should be prepared to be open about themselves, their interests and hobbies, and family situation. Learn about the partner’s business and community, including their family and values, so that you can move the conversation beyond small talk.