Although Spanish is the language of Argentina, many Argentines speak good English, having been educated internationally. In addition, many speak either Italian or German as a high proportion of Argentines have either Italian or German ancestry.
A great deal of respect is given to people who speak freely and express themselves forcefully. It is possible to disagree with people and even criticize their opinions and yet remain on friendly terms. Indeed by remaining uninvolved and aloof, you may be viewed as disengaged and disinterested. Meetings can appear to be quite noisy boisterous affairs with people frequently interrupting each other to add points or disagree with what is being said. Again, this liveliness is viewed as a positive as it shows engagement and interest.
As throughout most of South America, Argentines exhibit certain distinctive body language characteristics. Firstly, they stand in very close proximity to each other in comparison to many other cultures. Secondly, they have very strong levels of eye contact. Thirdly, they are highly tactile in many situations. This combination can seem quite threatening for people from cultures whose normal approach is more subdued (Scandinavians, the Japanese etc.) It is important that you try to accept these body language issues as it is unlikely that the locals will adapt to you.
It is usual for people to be referred to by their surnames rather than their first names in most business situations. Titles are also often used such as Ingeniero (engineer) or Abogado (lawyer).
Tips for Trading in Argentina
Although affected by numerous economic, political and social difficulties, Argentina remains a country which holds vast potential for the careful, well-prepared business investor.Tip 2
Historical factors have made Argentines unsure of the long-term and are often happiest when focusing on shorter-term issues.Tip 3
People in the country are very conscious of status and this impacts their attitudes to business and corporate structures.
Do not assume that a published organisation chart necessarily reflects the actual structure of the organisation. Complex webs of relationships can often distort things and power does not necessarily lie in the hands of the most obvious person.
Make sure you are dealing with the real decision-maker, and not just somebody you assume ought to be the decision-maker.
Managers are expected to manage. Decisiveness and clear instructions are expected and respected.
Managers and subordinates will develop very close personal bonds. The manager is expected to take a deep interest in the interests and well-being of subordinates.
Greater emphasis is placed upon the spoken than the written word. Don’t rely solely on email to convey a message — follow up with a phone call or a meeting.
It is difficult to arrange meetings too far in advance. If you do arrange meetings in advance, don’t be surprised if they are postponed nearer to the date. (Another example of Argentine short-termism).
Expect meetings there to be quite a lot of small talk at the beginning of meetings. View this as an important element of the meeting — don’t be impatient and try to rush it.
It is unlikely that people will have done huge amounts of pre-meeting preparation. Flexibility of thought and action are highly valued.
Punctuality is somewhat better than in some other South American countries, but you cannot assume that a meeting will start and finish on time.
English language levels are generally good and many people can speak either Italian or German (as well, of course, as Spanish).
Open, free debate is viewed positively and you are expected to express your opinions strongly. However, this should never be done if it is likely to lead to a direct confrontation. Remember how vital the relationship is and never do anything to jeopardise it.
Expect meetings to be noisy, lively events with several people speaking at once, frequent interruptions and extensive use of gesture and exaggerated body language.
Standing in close proximity to you or by strong levels of eye contact should not be off putting — this is normal in Argentina and should not be viewed as threatening or invasive.
It is common for people to refer to each other through the use of surnames rather than first names. This is a sign of respect rather than aloofness.
Female business visitors can expect to be treated with politeness and respect. They are unlikely to meet other senior women within their Argentine counterpart.
Dress smartly and soberly as you will be judged partly on your appearance.
Avoid discussing issues such as past political problems, South American levels of poverty or the Falklands/Malvinas.
Argentine society in general is very status conscious. Great emphasis is placed on what social class you belong to, which university you went to, where you are from and where you live now. In such a class conscious society, it is hardly surprising that all local business structures would tend to be extremely hierarchical.
Argentine companies are often what are usually referred to as relationship driven hierarchies. This means that the chain of command as outlined in a published organisation chart will not necessarily correspond exactly to the actual internal structure of the business. Who reports to whom and at which point in the chain the decisions are made could depend as much on a complex web of relationships and obligations as it might on the title of an individual. It is usually a very good idea to have a local guide to help you through this complexity – if you haven’t got that local guide, be very observant.
As you would expect in such a hierarchically driven culture, it is important that you are dealing with the right person within an organisation as relatively less power will have been devolved than might be expected in a more matrix organisation. Don’t waste time negotiating with the wrong people. Do some homework in advance on the hierarchy and structure you are likely to encounter.
Not only do Argentines prefer the spoken word over the written word, they also prefer face-to-face meetings to telephone conversations. This means that the best way to develop good business relations in Argentina is to take the trouble to visit people. One complication here is that it can be quite difficult to get people to commit to meetings very much in advance as they prefer to be able to manage their time on a week by week, day by day basis!
Meetings will usually start with a long pre-meeting chat which will cover topics as diverse as football, weekend activities and holidays – it is unlikely to include any mention of business. You can also expect a fairly lengthy repetition of this type of conversation at the end of the meeting. It is important to engage as fully as possible in these discussions as they are seen as a vital part of the relationship building process — coldness during these parts of the meeting could be very costly in both the short and long term.
Do not expect that everybody will have done lots of in-depth analytical planning for the meeting — they may have done but you can’t be certain. Flexibility and spontaneity are both greatly valued in Argentina — appropriately so in a country where people have traditionally been at the mercy of political and social forces beyond their control. Punctuality is much tighter than in other South American countries but agendas are very likely to be ignored.