Sunday, April 21, 2013

Mexican Power Distance Relationships and Communication Styles

The passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) along with more recent immigration of Mexican Americans has led to newer understandings of the power-distance dynamics of communication embedded in the South American culture. As new business partnerships emerge that lead to the furthering of relationships in Mexico, American managers will need to understand how communication and culture influences the organization processes. Furthermore, strong managers should have a global perspective to more effectively manage diverse cultures.

Mexico is seen as having a high power distance culture. They ranked with a score of 81 points that puts them fifth among 50 countries within the study (Hofstede’s, 2001). The greater this high-power distance the more uncomfortable employees feel when talking to managers, executives and others within positions of authority. Such employees would feel a natural anxiety when trying to connect with their supervisors and managers.

Imagine for a moment that you were a manager of employees from Mexico. You may not understand why they seem so silent, unwilling to bring forward problems, and not take initiative when problems occur. They seem to wait for direction and may not act even if such actions would have a positive result for the company. This could be part of issues related to the power-distance dynamics of two varying cultures.
It has been stated that such dynamics are “that silence can exact a high psychological price on individuals, generating feelings of humiliation, pernicious anger, resentment, and the like that, if unexpressed, contaminate every interaction, shut down creativity, and undermine productivity” (Perlow & Williams, 2003, p. 52). When cultures encourage such behaviors there is going to be less innovation and development within organizations as the environment creates passivity.

This means that managers need to engage such employees, build the right environments, and develop ways to create communication networks that result in productive outputs. By developing stronger relationships with such employees it begins adjust and create behaviors that are more productive. It takes time for employees to feel comfortable around managers and their positional powers before positive communication patterns can be developed. Trust develops over time.

A study by Madlock (2012) helps to highlight how the cultural aspects of power-distance influence communication styles. Through the surveying of 168 Mexican participants from non-managerial jobs the concepts of power distance, approach avoidance, communication apprehension, organizational commitment, communication satisfaction, and job satisfaction were measured. 

-Mexican employees exhibited more signs of power distance and use of avoidance methods.
-Mexican employees used less approach messages.
-There was a relationship between communication satisfaction and communication avoidance.
-There was a negative relationship between communication satisfaction and use of approach messages.
-Positive relationships existed between communication satisfaction, job satisfaction and organizational commitment.

Employees from cultures with high power distance relationships naturally do not engage their environment well without help from management. The anxiety they feel when talking to people of higher authority leads to avoidance of such interactions. In such populations some employees will be more inclined to withdraw even further which lowers their communicative engagement with others as well as their satisfaction with the employer. Through the engagement of Mexican workers, and others from similar type cultures, it is possible to raise their trust of management for higher levels of performance.

Hofstede, G. (2001). Culture’s consequences: Comparing values, behaviors, institutions, and organizations across nations. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Madlock, P. (2012). The Influence of Power Distance and Communication on Mexican Workers. Journal of Business Communication, 49 (2). 

Perlow, L., & Williams, S. (2003). Is silence killing your company? Harvard Business Review,
81, 52-58.

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