Managed by a Mexican in France, then being a French manager in Mexico: my relocation abroad has allowed me to understand my Mexican superior … 8 years later! Do you believe that speaking the same language is enough to efficiently manage a multicultural team? This article might give you some insight about true intercultural understanding.
French behavior seen by a Mexican manager, in France
8 years ago, I was an internal auditor in a big international group, within a team of 5 auditors. One day, our manager changed. Our new director was Mexican. He had worked in Mexico and the US before relocating to France. I was personally very happy with that change. I thought that his international experience would be very beneficial to us.
3 months after starting his job, when his frustration – though very real since his arrival- had never been apparent to us, he exploded: “ I can’t move forward: every time I ask something of you, you systematically say NO. I have to negotiate everything with you. What do I need to do to get you to comply?!”. Shocked, but not enough to refrain us from responding, as any French person would: “We might feel that what you ask of us is unrealistic, or we are already working on something else. We plan and deal with our priorities that way”. We tried to explain that when we negotiated, it was never “against” him. That was precisely what he was accusing us of: in his eyes, we shouldn’t negotiate, or even respond to his warning. Even during that exchange, we were behaving to the opposite of his expectations.
It is only after my relocation to Mexico, when I had the opportunity to work with Mexicans, that I realized the shock it must have been for our boss to see our reactions, the degree of his discomfort and the effort he must have produced to manage us. We were in total cultural misunderstanding. Paradoxically, it was even more shocking because we spoke the same language (he had impeccable French). He obviously couldn’t understand our reasoning, and neither could we his!
French manager of a Mexican team
A Mexican employee effectively never says no. For what reasons? Concern for appearance (verbal positivism), natural kindness of Mexicans, and unconditional respect for hierarchy. But foremost, a “no” would imply the inability to fulfill the position they were hired for. And that is just unconceivable. A French person can always justify a “no” since we know it won’t impact our results.
I experienced both situations and I can guarantee that “speaking the same language” in the literal sense is not enough for efficient intercultural management. “Speaking the same language as your team” is, above all, understanding and assimilating its reactions, learning the culture of the host country, and accepting it as is.
Translated by Florence Razé
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