Babel Cultural Newsletter: Colombia


08-06-2020
Colombian Flag

Each month Babel offers free briefings and expert advice for working with different cultures to its clients, learners and friends in the industry. This month the focus is on the Republic of Colombia.

 

Babel writes:

This month we are focusing on the Republic of Colombia which is situated largely in the northwest of South America, with some territories falling within the boundaries of Central America. It is bordered to the northwest by Panama; to the east by Venezuela and Brazil; to the south by Ecuador and Peru.   Colombia is the 25th largest nation in the world and the fourth-largest country in South America.  Most of the people live in the mountainous western portion of the country as well as along the northern coastline; the highest number live in or near the capital city of Bogotá.

The population of Colombia is 49 million and it is a mainly catholic country.  The majority of people speak Spanish.  Most indigenous ethnic groups have their own language. English among the general population is fairly limited (except in San Andrés & Providencia).

Colombia is a free market economy and has a track record of prudent macroeconomic and fiscal management and despite economic downturns has maintained its investment grade rating since 2013. After slowing down to 1.4 percent in 2017, economic growth accelerated to 3.3 percent in 2019, driven by robust private consumption and stronger investment. Growth was on track to accelerate further in 2020 but the COVID-19 pandemic is expected to significantly affect private consumption and investment.

Colombians take pride in their rich and diverse culture. They are also proud of the rumbero spirit – their ability to both work and play hard.  The family is a great source of pride.  The individual is also important and takes precedes over timetables or punctuality.

Colombia's business culture varies across the country. In the major cities (in particular Bogotá and Medellin) the business culture is more formal. In smaller cities such as Cali or those on the North Coast, the culture is generally more informal. In all cases, establishing personal relationships is essential to conducting business.  Networking and socializing are essential parts of Colombian business culture.  Small talk will likely come at the beginning and end of meetings. Trying to leave early or avoid chatting may be taken for rudeness.  Shake hands with everyone when joining or leaving a group. Be on time to business meetings – even though you may be waiting yourself.

Treat those in positions of authority with particular respect and deference. People believe that their supervisors have been chosen because they have more experience than those they manage. If a subordinate is not clear how they should approach a given task, they will generally ask co-workers rather than their manager.  

In Colombia, as in other hierarchical societies, managers may take a somewhat paternalistic attitude to their employees.  For this reason, offering opinions or recommendations to a supervisor seems intrusive and will need to be encouraged. This is changing in younger generations, particularly those employed by multinational corporations.  To encourage participation it is important to communicate clearly that their interaction is desired. 

Colombia is one of the most collectivistic cultures in the world which means belonging to an in-group and aligning yourself with that group’s opinion is very important.  At the same time, conflict is avoided, in order to maintain group harmony and to save face.  People avoid saying what they really think if there is a risk of it causing offence or upset.  

In general, the business climate is risk averse and there is a dislike for ambiguity.  There are rules for everything although not necessarily followed depending on the decision of those in power.  People prefer to maintain time-honoured traditions and norms while viewing change with suspicion. 

First names can be used, but titles are important and terms like 'Doctor' should be used as a form of respect. When meeting and greeting, expect a firm handshake, often for a long time, combined with strong eye contact.  Expect to be asked several times how you are and if this is your first visit to Colombia, you are likely to be asked if you like it.  Don’t ask what the person does for a living unless you know they’re employed. Don’t ask about "violence in Colombia", though it’s OK to inquire about some specific event, which may be in the news.

During conversations, Colombians tend to be expressive with their hands and face.  The display of emotion here is complex.  For example, to attend a party means to celebrate, to laugh loud and to dance.  But in the workplace, it is not acceptable to show your anger, lose your patience or reprimand someone publicly.  If a manager must speak to a subordinate about a performance problem, then it's essential it's done in private to protect the honour and reputation of the individual concerned.  Equally, positive feedback may be given publicly as it enhances the person’s status.

Enter This Month’s Cultural Awareness Quiz

Which famous, female, singer-songwriter, dancer and businesswoman was born in Colombia and has gone on to sell more than 70 million albums worldwide?

Email your answer to sue.curry@babelgroup.co.uk

Please write Quiz in the subject title.

Inspired? If you want to learn how you can work more effectively with your Colombian colleagues, clients or supplier, contact us for a 'Working Effectively with...' sample course outline'.   

All training is tailored to suit your needs and is currently delivered live online.

Work for an international company? Trying to plan training during and post Covid-19 restrictions? Whether you have a straightforward need for language learning or require a broader global cross-cultural programme, please Contact Sue to find out how we can support you.

 

To read more information, click here.

Babel delivers language training in all major world languages, coaches delegates to be culturally competent in their global roles, briefs expats for starting new jobs overseas and helps create high-performing remote teams.

Babel Language & Cultural Consultants