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About Colombia

by: Almiro dos Reis Neto, Associate partner of Hofstede Insights

 

Currency: Colombian Peso (COP)                                          
Capital: Bogotá                                          
Time Zone: UTC – 5h

 

Overview

 

The Geert Hofstede analysis for Colombia is like for many other Latin American countries where there is very strong uncertainty avoidance, large power distance, and low individualism. This is indicative of a society that has a high concern for rules, regulations, and controls, is slow to accept change, and is risk averse. There is a high emphasis placed on close ties with individuals, or relationships, whereby everyone takes responsibility for fellow members of their group. There are significant inequalities of power and wealth within the society. Colombia has one of the highest masculinity rankings in Latin America. This indicates that the country experiences a high degree of gender differentiation of roles. The male dominates a significant portion of the society and power structure.
 

 


Some cornerstones of Colombian culture

 

  • Colombians are usually warm, sociable and family-guided. They might present a clumsy rude way in situations such as driving, queueing or walking on the sidewalks;
  • As an emotional culture, Colombians are very animated - do not take it as an aggressive attitude;
  • Colombian culture is highly relational, so working with both family and friends is usual;
  • As in many Latin American countries, people are warm and both greetings and conversations might come along with body touches;
  • Although Colombia’s economy has been growing and poverty has been decreasing, there is still notable social stratifications; 
  • Gender’s role segregation is gradually losing its importance among the metropolitan cities, but still matters, especially in rural areas;
  • Colombians celebrate a plenty of holidays, so you should check to fit in with your plans;
  • Colombian behave and dress formally in business environment. On other hand, talking about family or unrelated issues are very common, especially to start the conversation;
  • The business culture among major cities (Bogotá or Medellin) is more formal than in smaller ones;

 

 
When in Colombia

 

 
  • Keeping eye contact demonstrates interest and enforces trust;
  • Smiling is very welcomed;
  • If you cannot speak Spanish, find an interpreter for you, since few people can speak English fluently;
  • People stand close to each other when talking;
  • Do not expect a quick and direct approach for meeting and business itself;
  • Business meetings might commonly happen on meal time (even breakfast), and it is a good opportunity to know each other in depth and enforce trust.

 

Greetings

 

  • Long handshakes are the common greeting and may come along with a touch in the arm or a quick hug;
  • Kisses are usual among acquaintances, specially family members or opposite gender people;
  • After the first time introduced to a woman, it is acceptable to kiss her on the right cheek;
  • Titles are important. For example, professional ones, such as “Ingeniero” for an engineer and Doctor for both lawyers or physicians; or non-professional ones, such as “Señor” for Mr. or “Señora” for Mrs. Titles are followed by the person’s first name or father’s name (which is the first surname).

 

 
Good to know

 

  • Schedule business appointments in advance and confirm it close to the scheduled date;
  • Deadlines may not always be clear stated and respected. For example, “mañana” (literally, tomorrow), may not necessarily mean that it will be done for tomorrow. It might mean somewhere in the future;
  • Punctuality is relaxed; although as a foreigner you are expected to be on time;
  • Have business cards printed in English on one side and the translation Spanish on the other. Present the card with the Spanish side facing your Colombian colleague;
  • Business people prefer relaxed conversation before business;
  • For Colombians it is important to know the business partner personally; 
  • Lunch is the main meal of the day and a popular choice for a business meal, but home meals are very usual;
  • When invited to home dinner, bring a small gift such as chocolate, flowers, wine or a typical object from your country;
  • Position in the World Bank Ease of Doing Business Rank (2017): Colombia ranks 53 (out of 190 countries; the 2nd best country in Latin America).

 


Body language

 

  • Women visitors should be especially sensitive about making any glance or gesture that might be considered flirtatious;
  • As communication is not direct, body language may offer signals of agreement or disagreement;
  • Keep your hands above the table when eating.
  • Colombians appreciate politeness;
  • It is impolite to yawn in public;
  • Two pointing fingers (as North Americans would use to indicate length) is an obscene gesture in Colombia;
  • Avoid putting your feet up on a table or other piece of furniture;

 

 
Dress code

 

  • For dress, formality increases as you move inland. It is important to adopt conservative business attire inland;
  • Dark colors suits are preferred;
  • Women should dress conservatively and modestly: a suit or dress.

 

Key words to describe Colombian culture:

 

Relationship/ Family / Emotional / Status / Inequality / Hospitable / Celebration / Joy / Tradition
 
 

 

 

Successful business

 

Doing business in Colombia can be challenging because of: 

 

  • Business registration might be bureaucratic;
  • Complexity of the legal system;
  • Government corruption and inefficiency;
  • Business usually require a certain level of relationship and trust;
  • Communication is not always direct;
  • Scarcity of English proficiency.

 

Experts Recommendation 

 

  • Bring business cards and presentations brochures also in Spanish;
  • Address your business partners with the appropriate titles;
  • Confirm meetings when close to the scheduled date;
  • Have legal advisory for dealing with the complex legal system and its bureaucracy;
  • Aim for talking to top-level managers;
  • Negotiations may take time, once they require a certain level of relationship and trust;
  • Look for being introduced for a third person who can provide you with legitimacy, e.g.: an embassy representative, a common business partner or a common friend;
  • When scheduling the first meeting, it is recommended to send an e-mail concerning the subject;
  • Prefer face to face meeting for initial business proposal rather than conference calls;
  • Be aware that communication may not be direct and pay attention to the whole context: body language, voice tone, hesitations, etc.;
  • Summarize agreements through e-mail after the meetings as a way of registering and formalizing each step, but be careful not to be rude or seem to be distrusting your partner;
  • It may take several and long business meeting for closing a deal, therefore, add time-buffer to your schedules and plans;
  • Start conversations with small talks;
  • Good conversation topics: what you have been liking in Colombia so far, history, culture, soccer, coffee, gold museum;
  • Bad conversation topics: drug traffic, politics, religion;
  • Be transparent with both your plans and information – this can lead you to a reliable image;
  • Do not ask for confidential financial data in the first meeting and especially if it’s a family run business, since it may cause of suspicions;
     

 

 

Dimensions

 

Colombia has a low Individualism (IDV) score (13), as do most Latin countries. The score on this dimension indicates the society is Collectivist as compared to Individualist. This is manifest in a close long-term commitment to the member 'group', be that a family, extended family, or extended relationships. Loyalty in a collectivist culture is paramount, and over-rides most other societal rules and regulations. The society fosters strong relationships where everyone takes responsibility for fellow members of their group and seek for preserving group harmony rather than a personal opinion, for example.

 

The Power Distance (PDI) score of 67 indicates a level of inequality of power and wealth within the society. Leaders centralize main decisions. The collectivistic trait added to the high power distance expresses social class stratification.

 

Colombia has one of the higher masculinity scores in Latin America (64). Not only status and success matter, but also they are also distinctive elements for a social class. Thus, competition is mainly seen between different groups or social classes, not between individuals.

 

Colombia's highest Hofstede Dimension is Uncertainty Avoidance (UAI) at 80, indicating the society’s low level of tolerance for uncertainty. To minimize or reduce this level of uncertainty, strict rules, laws, policies, and regulations are adopted and implemented. The goal of this population is to control, eliminate or avoid the unexpected. Because of this high Uncertainty Avoidance characteristic, the society does not easily accept change and is risk adverse. As a result, in accordance to what was mentioned about the other dimensions, there are significant boundaries for changing the status quo.

 

In many of the Latin American countries, including Colombia, the population is predominantly catholic. The combination of Catholicism and the cultural dimensions reinforce a philosophy predicated in the belief that there is an absolute ‘Truth”. As Hofstede explains about cultures with high Uncertainty Avoidance Index, their attitude is, “There can only be one Truth and we have it”. Even though, Colombians present an expressive willingness to fulfil their desires and to party, as it is seen through the high score in Indulgence.

 


Interesting Links

 

  1. ndex and dates for Colombian Holidays: http://www.officeholidays.com/countries/colombia/index.php
  2. 2006 ErnstYoung Business and Investment Guide for Colombia: http://www.ey.com/Publication/vwLUAssets/ey-business-and-investment-guid...$FILE/ey-business-and-investment-guide-2016-colombia.pdf
  3. Doing Business in Colombia Guide by the British Institute of Export: http://www.colombia.doingbusinessguide.co.uk/contact.aspx
  4. Official Colombian government website for investment: http://www.investincolombia.com.co
  5. Colombia travel guide video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZCSejndAOJE
  6. Detailed documentary on Colombian History and culture: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0nXL1FVV6j0
  7. Official Colombian government video for investment: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dfRXPnTV2Ew