I recently read an article about why most expats in Japanese failed to deliver results due to severe cultural difference. It said that those who succeeded were those who let the Japanese “Do it the Japanese way” while offered support and guidance. Totally agree with that but i think this approach is not just solely for those in Japan, but for all expats on foreign soil.
Funny enough, the difficulties and frustrations of expats in Japan are identical with those experienced by the Japanese expats in Mexico. When i arrived in Mexico, i heard all sorts of stories about changes revered after the expat left, the frustration of never getting a Mexican to do as told, the lack of consistence and self-motivation of the local staff, etc.. That definitely did not paint a beautiful image.
I would admit the first 6 months here were terrible, like lost in limbo kind of terrible. It probably did not help being in the smallest state in Mexico, where there weren’t much until the Japanese companies came, with most my coworkers being the first generation to receive higher education, and the average wage among the lowest in Mexico. My Spanish tutor who is from Mexico City had told me how different it is in comparison. Although frustrated, it is unfair to condemn people for circumstances not of their control. And I have came to realize how fortunate i am, even though getting through college in Japan for me was financially and physically challenging, for all the experiences which broadened my view and shaped me.
So did i figure out how to work with Mexicans? I would like to believe that i do, sort of.
Let the Mexicans “Do it the Mexican way” is way bumpier than applying the same strategy in Japan. The big difference being most of the time, most of the Japanese know what they are doing, in terms of technical knowledge, and you are most likely working with a team with similar level of education and training among its members. In Mexico, the skill level variation among peers are quite extreme and they tend to approach problems with try and error strategy or just redo whatever a Japanese expat did last time there was a problem. Does that mean that they are incompetent? Nah. They are quite good if you know how to work with them.
Here are the few points that i learned:
- Put in the same amount of effort you want to see in them – Be the change you want to see in the world….rings a bell? For me, learning Spanish was crucial in building mutual respect and trust with them. Even if language is not your forte, it is the effort that counts.
- Be specific and graphic with the explanation of the task and goal, and why – Be clear enough that if their boss asked, they could spew it out without a hiccup, and look good. When they have a clear understanding, they are motivated greatly.
- Keep detail minutes/records – Besides keeping track, it will be good material to show to their bosses as proof of their efforts, and benefit their career.
- Throw ideas, let them decide – Group consent is very important in Mexico, so as a good environment for discussion and not pointing fingers. Of course if they are charting a route to Bermuda some interventions are required.
- Don’t get annoyed by small glitches – Things like arriving late in meetings, sudden absence are very common in Mexico. It is like the opposite of Japanese being extremely on time, it’s part of the culture, due to the difference perception of time. People get frustrated, but if you really calm down…it is not the end of the world.
It is not easy working in foreign land with different culture, but definitely worth it : )