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Cross Cultural Management Guide for Chile

The guidance offered below is for managers who want to learn more about the management style and business culture of Chile.

It provides some useful information for managers who are relocating to the country for employment as well as those who may have Chilean employees in their global or multicultural teams.

Topics include:

  • Hierarchy
  • Formality
  • Relationships
  • Time management
  • Leadership
  • Decision making
  • Communication style

Being a Manager in Chile

The business set up in Chile is very formal and cross cultural management will be more successful if you err on the side of being overly formal and conservative rather than jeopardize a potential business relationship because you were too informal and appeared flippant. You may find that:

  • For the most part, Chileans are formal in their business dealings, at least until a personal relationship has been developed.
  • Good manners and proper etiquette are seen as a sign of good breeding.
  • Clothing too is considered important and should wear well-tailored clothing if you are to make a good impression. 
  • It is a good idea to have a wide range of contacts.
  • This is a country where knowing the right person is often more important than what you know.
  • As such, it's important that you make a great deal of effort when relationship building and nurturing existing relationships.
  • You will find that a great deal of time is devoted to meetings to small talk if the relationships are fairly new. 
  • Where this is the case, don't try to hurry things along too quickly as this practice is an important part of Chilean business. 
  • Interpersonal relationships, including loyalty to family and friends, are essential to business success.

The Role of a Manager

Cross cultural communication will be more effective when managing in Chile if you keep in mind that each person has a very distinct role within the organization. This may manifest in the following way:

  • People believe that their supervisors have been chosen because they have more experience than those they manage, and it is, therefore, unnecessary, and even inappropriate for them to consult with lower-ranking individuals when decision-making.
  • In Chile, as in other hierarchical societies, managers may take a somewhat paternalistic attitude toward their employees.
  • They may demonstrate a concern for employees that goes beyond the workplace and strictly professional concerns.
  • This may include involvement in their family, housing, health, and other practical life issues.

Approach to Change

Chile’s readiness for change is apparent although changes are still made slowly, requiring a considerable amount of thought, planning and evaluation. You should take into consideration the following points:

  • It would be perceived as imprudent to introduce rapid change, and yet it would be recognized as poor management to resist change unnecessarily.
  • Cultural sensitivity is important with Chile’s attitude toward risk dramatically impacted by the negative ramifications of failure on both the individual and the group.

Approach to Time and Priorities

Deadlines and timescales are fluid in Chile. As such: 

  • Patience will play an essential part in successful management.
  • Although Chile is a fairly time-fluid culture, it's advisable to be punctual for meetings. 
  • You may find, however, that your Chilean counterparts might be a little late on occasion, although this is not something that's typically addressed or challenged. 
  • While timescales and deadlines need to be set well in advance and reiterated carefully, it should be understood that these will be viewed as flexible.
  • Global working means that some managers may have a greater appreciation of the need to enforce timescales and as such, agreed deadlines are more likely to be met.

Decision Making

Decisions are reached at the top of the company, often after seeking input from all the stakeholders. Other important points include the following:

  • Since Chileans believe business should be "win-win" scenarios, they attempt to find solutions that are in the best interest of all concerned.
  • Managers are more autocratic than in many other countries.
  • They tell subordinates what they want to be done and how they expect them to perform the task.
  • Subordinates follow a manager’s instructions without comment, as it would be rude to challenge someone of a higher status.

Boss or Team Player?

Chilean business is relatively hierarchical and managers are somewhat more autocratic than in many other countries:

  • There are still remnants of social class in the business arena. Managers do not seek a consensus before making decisions.
  • Managers tell subordinates what they want to be done and how they expect them to perform the task.
  • They are also paternalistic and will assist their subordinates if they have personal problems.
  • Employees follow a manager’s instructions without comment, as it would be rude to challenge someone of a higher status.
  • Successful management will rely on the individual’s interpersonal skills and ability to maintain cordial relationships with their subordinates.
  • This can be as important as their technical knowledge.

Communication and Negotiation Styles

The formality apparent when dealing with Chileans extends into the board room. As such you should:

  • Since Chile is a relationship-based culture, you are likely to find that Chileans avoid any kind of communication that might lead to confrontation.
  • As such, they are more subtle and indirect in their speech.
  • If you are from a more direct communication culture, then you may find the level of indirectness in Chile rather confusing. 
  • Where this is the case, consider having a discussion with someone you trust within your group and asking them to be more explicit about any dialogue that has taken place. 
  • Wait to be told where to sit; there may be a seating plan.
  • You can expect senior and mid-level executives to attend initial meetings. Mid-level executives will attend follow-up meetings.
  • Chileans are extremely conservative; they value honesty and truth and do not appreciate “hard sell” techniques.
  • Relationships are important and time is spent developing these.
  • Patience is essential as Chileans do not like to be rushed.
  • Although the business environment can be fairly formal in structure, you may find that the Chileans have a sense of humour and that they can be extremely relaxed where formality isn't expected. 

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