In one of our previous articles, we talked about general etiquette norms in Colombia.
We mentioned essential aspects to keep in mind when interacting with Colombians regarding eating, visiting people’s houses, giving presents, dating, and doing business in Colombia.
In this article, we’ll focus on Business etiquette in Colombia.
Because Colombia is one of the most dynamic and promising economies in Latin America, it’s Latin America’s fourth-largest economy by GDP, and because Colombia is well known for having hard-working and highly qualified professionals.
So, if you are considering investing in Colombia, relocating to Colombia for work, or if you handle suppliers or customers in Colombia, there are a few cultural aspects you should keep in mind.
Trust us, they will come in handy!
Let’s start talking about punctuality!
Yes, yes, we know…Punctuality is not one of the best attributes Colombians have. But when it comes to business, we are punctual!
However, there is always the chance that your meeting starts 15 or even 30 min later. So, be on time, and relax if things don’t go as planned.
If you are running late, it’s not a big deal as it might be in other countries but make sure you notify the counterpart in advance; they will appreciate it.
The following are just formalities that your Colombian counterpart will appreciate.
- It is typical to exchange business cards at a meeting when meeting someone for the first time.
- Maintain eye contact during conversations.
- Smile freely. Colombians are warm and friendly, even in business meetings.
- Shake hands with everyone when entering or leaving a room.
- Don’t be surprised if people greet you with a kiss on the cheek. It depends on how formal and traditional your business counterpart is. To avoid misunderstandings, keep it formal until the other person does otherwise.
- It would help if you let your Colombian counterparts bring up the subject of business. This may take some time, Colombians like to get to know you better first.
- Meetings may not always follow the agenda as planned. Topics are discussed as they are raised, so the outline is more of a starting point.
- Once negotiations have concluded, and decisions have been made, it is important to stay a little longer for some concluding small talk.
Business in Colombia runs traditionally with established hierarchies. Senior employees make most decisions.
It’s advised to address people with their appropriate titles and wait for the other party to initiate a transition to a first-name basis.
It is common to refer to clients and associates as “Señor” (Mr) or “Señora” (Mrs/Ms), you should not be surprised if someone of particularly high standing is referred to as “doctor” as a mark of respect, regardless of whether they have Ph.D.
However, let’s keep in mind that Colombia’s entrepreneurship is growing fast. There are many interesting start-ups and highly qualified young professionals. When business is being carried out with them, the hierarchies are almost null.
Colombia’s business attire is always formal, from in-office meetings to coffee, lunch, and dinners.
Colombians love being well-groomed. So, avoid being too casual.
- Men usually wear suits in dark, neutral colors.
- Women wear suits and professional dresses.
- Women should avoid being overly flashy, though makeup and heels are the norm.
- Shoes are incredibly important for both men and women. Dress shoes should be polished and clean always.
- It is never acceptable to wear tennis.
- For women, keep your nails properly. Use nail polish with neutral colors.
Personal Relationships and Socialization
Personal relationships play an essential role in Colombian business culture. Colombians will generally be keen to know you and your background before starting any business. They might ask many questions about your family and personal life.
Things to keep in mind:
- Face-to-face meetings are necessary for most businesses, although after the global pandemic, things have drastically changed in that regard.
- Networking and socializing are integral parts of Colombian business culture.
- Family networks can help businesses succeed, and third-party introductions can be helpful, as Colombians prefer to work with people they know and trust.
- Expect meetings to be lengthy. Allow some time for small talk; Colombians prefer to know you first before talking about delicate topics, including prices.
- Generally, verbal agreements are adhered to based on trust-breaking them can damage business relationships.
- A business transaction may require several trips. Colombians prefer to do business in person, and we are sure you will like to visit Colombia repeatedly.
Business meetings can take place in-office, restaurants, cafes, or clubs. You can even get invited to your counterpart’s house (or holiday house) depending on the business matter.
Food and drinks are very important in Colombian cultural culture. You will love it!
- Daytime meetings could include working breakfasts, lunches, and coffee, lots of coffee!
- Evening meetings include dinners and cocktail receptions.
If you are invited to a meeting outside the office, make sure you block your schedule for at least 2-3 hours.
Our best advice is never to be in a rush; the success of the relationship you are building could determine the success of your business!
Communication, Language & Culture
Colombians have an increasing awareness of the importance of knowing good English in business environments, especially in major cities.
Highly qualified young professionals are most likely to be bilingual, while senior employees are less likely to be bilingual.
Colombians will do their best to make themselves understand and to make you feel comfortable. Your colleagues or counterparts will serve as translators, or you can easily hire an interpreter.
If you want to demonstrate an interest in the local culture and any possible partnership, we highly recommend learning Spanish.
You can start with some basics, General Spanish, and depending on how long you will stay in Colombia, the nature of the business, or your interest in strengthening your ties with your Colombian counterparts, you can deepen your knowledge of Spanish for Business.
What are those things you shouldn’t do?
Colombians, in general, are very easy going and relaxed. There are certain cultural norms and business formalities that can be “broken” if you are a foreigner…
However, there are others that could awaken the emotional side and hurt Colombian pride.
In business meetings and any other meeting with Colombia avoid:
- Pointing with the index finger to beacon someone. You can wave someone over with your palm down.
- Yawning, it’s considered impolite and suggests you are bored in the meeting.
- Putting your feet up the table, chair or sofa.
- Criticizing Colombia or Colombian culture.
But above all, avoid making jokes or reinforcing negative stereotypes associated with the country’s history, such as drugs. Unless you can speak about them in an informed manner, or they ask your opinion on a specific issue.
While foreigners often use these topics to break the ice in conversations, it is generally a sensitive topic in Colombia.
We hope you have found this article helpful, and we wish you success in all the business ventures you are undertaking in Colombia!
If you want to improve your Spanish and get to know more about Colombian culture, do not hesitate to contact us. We will be happy to tailor a specific program for you.
Also, don’t forget to follow our social media channels and to read our bi-weekly Blog.
Hope to see you in Colombia soon!