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Egypt, Mexico, and United States: Understanding Cultural Similarities and Differences

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For many years, the research on business interactions in various cultures was focused on companies based in the United States. The reason for writing this paper is to continue expanding on this research to include Egypt and Mexico and review several significant cultural differences between the three that could affect business interactions. The initial findings indicate that while there are significant differences there are more similarities. The objective is to enable the best conditions for managers, so they can do their best at work.

Cultural differences present a challenge to any person who is planning to support business operations in another country, such as Egypt, Mexico, or the United States. Managers will encounter situations in their business environment, in which they will face barriers of culture, communication, and physical appearances. This paper will explore the similarities and differences between the Egyptians, Mexicans, and Americans and how this information can be leveraged to ensure a smooth business interaction.

Management Styles

Many Egyptian companies are very hierarchical, and it might be common to see this reflected in a majority of their management styles. Egyptian managers will engage their peers and subordinates for feedback, but will likely make an authoritative decision. Egyptian managers expect their subordinates to follow their decisions with precision and any criticism of those decisions is not welcomed. According to Greer and Stephens (1995), the Mexican managerial management style can be characterized as autocratic and paternalistic. Mexican managers take an authoritative approach with interest in caring for the dignity of employees. Like their Egyptian counterparts, Mexican managers expect their subordinates to follow instructions with little or no dissent. In contrast, American management styles are very individualistic because managers are held responsible for any decisions made for their respective teams. In most cases one will find American managers openly embracing dialogue with their teams regarding a “big decision”. However, American managers are more likely to ignore the opinions of subordinates, which could lead to lower morale.

There are many similarities between Egyptian, Mexican, and American management styles, including the fact that hierarchical structures are paramount. However, there is a potential for managers to disregard the feedback of their peers and/or subordinates. All three cultures regard managers as highly accountable for any decisions they make. Despite the similarities there are a key differences in management styles, for instance, in Mexico managers are more inclined to take an interest in caring for the dignity of employees when making decisions or providing feedback, whereas their Egyptian and American counterparts are less likely to factor the “dignity of employees” into their decision-making.

Communication Styles

According to Imachukwu (2014), “Communication is a key component to the success of multicultural teams. Misunderstanding of nonverbal behaviors is a problem that results in communication breakdown, potentially reducing team efficiency and productivity”. In Egypt, most people will stand close to one another when communicating. This is accompanied with strong eye contact. In some cases, it may appear that Egyptians are screaming at each other in the middle of a contentious discussion; however, it is important to remember that this is done to convey passion. According to Home Today Translations, it is advisable to have an Egyptian representative to explain the major points of one’s business in Arabic. Many educated Egyptians speak multiple languages, but they appreciate brevity and, therefore, would prefer Arabic. In Mexico, most people will also stand close to one another when communicating and will have strong eye contact. Mexicans tend to show emotion when having a contentious discussion, as this implies engagement. Most Mexicans will address each other through use of their family names, moving to a friendlier first name when the relationship is established. In the United States, people will stand near one another and will expect eye contact if they want to be taken seriously. As described by Bakhtari (1995), Americans are very informal and direct. They do not talk around things. They tend to say exactly what they mean. To some foreigners, this appears abrupt or even inappropriate behavior. There are many similarities between Egyptian, Mexican, and American communication styles, including the fact that they all prefer direct eye contact when conversating. Abramson, N. R. , & Moran, R. T. (2018), noted that “In many Western cultures, a person who does not maintain good eye contact is regarded as slightly suspect. Those who avoid eye contact are unconsciously considered unfriendly, insecure, untrustworthy, inattentive, and impersonal”. All three cultures have some level of tolerance when one is expressing emotions during heated conversations (i. e. shouting, being very pointed); however, the United States has its limits and overly emotional engagements could be considered unprofessional.

Dress Attire

The importance of dress attire for business can vary by country and industry. According to Tice (2011), appearance ranks second only to communication skills when respondents named qualities most often associated with professionalism. Therefore, it is imperative that managers understand the norms of dress attire in various cultures. In Egypt, the recommended dress is more conservative. For instance, men might wear slacks, jacket, and a shirt with a tie in most business meetings. The same guidance applies to women with modesty in mind. Any skirts or dresses should be of a longer length. In many Egyptian business circles, it would be considered quite offensive if a foreigner were to wear native attire, as this is something reserved for Egyptians.

In Mexico, the Mexicans are quite status-driven, and one must “look the part”. Therefore, what men and women wear is of great importance and it is crucial that one dresses how they want to be perceived. There is no such thing as “over-dressed” in Mexico, in fact it is encouraged. The region of Mexico one is in will certainly have an impact on what they should wear, for instance, in Mexico City one will find more formal wear, whereas, in more rural areas one will find that nice shirts and slacks or even jeans will do the trick. In the United States the dress attire can vary from region to region and even industry to industry; however, the one thing that is certain is that there is a time and place for every type of wear. For instance, in the West one is more likely to find more informal dress codes (i. e. business casual), whereas, one may find more stringent dress codes in the East (i. e. suit and tie). Due to the significant differences in dress attire requirements within the United States, the best advice is to check with others who are local or who have visited the office one is visiting.

There are many similarities in business dress attire between the Egyptians and Mexicans; however, the Americans tend to take an approach that makes sense for the setting (i. e. weather, industry). There is consistency in the fact that all three cultures value conservative dress, even only if when appropriate (i. e. formal business meetings, interviews). It is important to note, that unless approved in advance by the visited culture, it would be wise to not wear native wear (i. e. sombrero) as it can be perceived as disrespectful.

Motivating Employees

In Egypt, motivating employees is pretty straight-forward. Many in Egyptian society are religiously oriented with a strong sense of brotherhood or sisterhood. There is also a strong need to be stable and that is because there are significant family dependencies. Therefore, the best examples of ways to motivate employee is Egypt is through work-life balance, job enrichment, and job security. However, there is a likelihood that business will also need to ensure that there is some type of profit sharing and goal-based incentives.

Like their Egyptian counterparts, Mexicans are motivated by the need to tend to the family and work is just a means to enable this tending. Most Mexicans will have a tremendous loyalty to their manager, which also becomes a source of motivation. Businesses in Mexico will need to ensure that there is some type of incentive system; however, Mexico is different in that the perks that are highly valued are those taken for granted in many other cultures, for instance, nurseries, free meals, and healthcare facilities.

In the United States, money is the best motivator and is even more important than a title. Americans value a flexible schedule, which may include the ability to telecommute. Americans want to make a difference and would prefer to have challenging work that requires working within a team. While most workers in all three cultures value monetary compensation, there are very distinct drivers for workers in each culture. We find in Egypt that the religious connections may drive one’s decision to take on a new job or in Mexico the tendency to take care of the family’s needs and the view that work is only a means to support a happy life. However, in the United States the drivers could be different from person to person; however, the American worker generally puts the highest emphasis on the need for monetary compensation.

In conclusion, it is clear that there many differences between given cultures in the world; however, after a closer look one will find that there is more that people have in common. It would be wise to research the differences and similarities between cultures to ensure smooth business interactions, but the key is to remain open-minded. According to Tice (2011), this means:

  • Acknowledge what you don’t know. If you have a worker who’s from a culture or religion you don’t know much about, let them know you’re feeling your way here, but you want to make sure they’re comfortable and supported.
  • Keep communication lines open. Tell minority hires you’re serious about growing a diverse workplace. Include them in human-resource discussions about how to make your workplace more welcoming and inclusive. Tell these workers they have a direct line to you any time they have a concern.
  • Learn more. If you don’t know what you need to do to make a worker comfortable, you can’t do it. Find out what prohibited foods, modesty issues, days off needed or other cultural differences might come into play in your workplace, so you can avoid any inadvertent gaffes.
  • Set policy and educate. Set clear policy that you want to know if anyone is being teased, bullied or in any way feels uncomfortable. And reinforce it with real education for everyone on your staff. Be sure to attend yourself. There is even free basic course available online, so there’s no excuse for not putting a diversity training session together.
  • Celebrate it. Considering giving workers an opportunity to share their cultures in a low-key, social way such as with a company potluck.

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