Colombian Culture

Business Culture

Meetings

  • It is important to arrive on time. Colombians are generally punctual when it comes to business engagements. Punctuality conveys respect for the person’s time and attention. A five-minute delay is forgivable.
  • Address people with their appropriate titles and wait for the other party to initiate a transition to first-name basis.
  • It is common to exchange business cards in first meetings.
  • Allow some time for small talk to precede any serious discussion of business. If it is the first time parties have met, this initial acquaintance may absorb the whole meeting.
  • Meetings may not always follow the proposed agenda exactly. The outline of the meeting is more of a starting point, but topics and issues are addressed as they are raised.
  • Colombians may not be explicit about their disagreement in meetings. They may say something along the lines of ‘we will have to see’ to show that while it is unlikely to happen, they still value the relationship.
  • Do not expose people’s errors or oversights in front of others publicly in the meeting.
  • Expect meetings to be lengthy; Colombians tend to take an indirect and verbose approach when introducing delicate topics (such as price).
  • While they may be indirect in certain communication styles, Colombians can become very animated in meetings. Avoid interpreting this to indicate that the meeting is going poorly.
  • Remain cordial and courteous throughout negotiations. It is generally believed that you have no grounds to base your argument on if it is delivered impolitely – even if it is very rational.
  • Once negotiations have concluded and decisions have been reached, it is important to stay a little longer for some concluding small talk.

 

Relationship Oriented

Personal relationships play a large role in Colombian business culture. Family networks are often key to business success in Colombia. Third-party introductions can be helpful, as Colombians prefer to work with those whom they know and trust. It is also preferred that people meet face-to-face as often as possible as this deepens the personal relationship between partners. Verbal agreements are generally adhered to on the basis of trust – breaking them can jeopardise business relationships.

 

Colombians will most likely be eager to know you and therefore may ask many questions about your family and personal life. Consider that networking is not done idly in Colombian culture since personal contacts can be crucial to success; therefore, Colombians invest much time and effort into their relationships and getting to know those whom they work with.

 

In order to deepen a relationship, try to be as talkative and transparent with them as possible. Your charisma can have a large influence on whether they like or trust you or not. Ultimately, the impression you leave can have a huge impact on the decisions a Colombian makes and may even override business objectives. They may ignore empirical evidence on the basis of a feeling. For example, if you have a great offer for them but they don’t like your attitude, they may pass on the offer.

 

Considerations

  • Generally speaking, Colombians have an incredible work ethic. However, their reluctance to directly say “no” means there can be some misunderstandings about timeframes and deadlines.
  • Though they care for quality, Colombians generally view price as the better indicator of a successful partnership.
  • It is important to show a businessperson’s secretary respect and courtesy. Thoughtfulness aimed in their direction can sometimes facilitate future success and appointments.
  • You may be invited to somebody’s home to dine with them in the interests of furthering a business relationship. It is considered very rude to decline.
  • Colombians prefer face-to-face communication. If this option is not available, they generally are more likely to discuss issues over the phone rather than by email. To mediate this balance, try and call as frequently as possible whilst following up conversations with emails summarising the main points.
  • Colombian decision-making procedures are quite hierarchical. Therefore, be aware that representatives of a lower status may be unable to make large promises on the spot.
  • On the Corruption Perception Index (2017), Colombia is ranked 96th out of 180 countries, receiving a score of 37 (on a scale from 0 to 100). This perception suggests that the country’s public sector is somewhat corrupt.
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