Chileans do not like to feel pressured in business negotiations and will retreat from relationships that are perceived as being pushy. With a more formal business atmosphere than in neighbouring countries, close personal relationships are a vital pre-cursor to business arrangements in Chile. Cautious by nature, Chileans will only do business with those that they trust, and with whom they enjoy a friendly relationship.
It is imperative that any international company or entity wishing to break into the Chilean market does so with a local expert, who knows the cultural intricacies and has the required high-level contacts, to impact decision making. Your local PR agency in Chile will be able to introduce you to the right people and help you to navigate fruitful relationships with them.
Although literacy rates are high, and many professionals do speak fluent English, this is not guaranteed. A few pleasantries in Spanish from the newcomer company are always well received (small-talk is a must before launching into formal conversations). Keep such initial conversations on safe topics, like culture, travel, pastimes, and keep your opinions to yourself on anything that may be deemed offensive or controversial (politics, religion, human rights). Always maintain eye contact when dealing with Chilean associates, and make it a policy to always greet the most senior person in the room, before communicating with anyone else.
Don’t contradict or publicly criticise Chile or Chileans, as this is a sure-fire way of ensuring the no-one will engage with you and your company. In the same vein, be aware that you may be paid platitudes in meetings, as Chileans will rarely wish to offend, and may tell you what they perceive you want to hear, rather than the actual reality of a given situation.
While Chileans will often interject while you speak, this is not intended to appear rude, but rather to illustrate interest and enthusiasm in the topic at hand. Don’t replicate this. As in many Latin American countries, the formal handshake can evolve into hearty hugs at either end of business meetings. Follow the lead of your host, and be sure to not back away as they enter into your ‘personal space’, as this may appear to be insulting. Keep hand movements to a minimum, as some gestures are considered to be highly insulting in Chilean culture (particularly if you hit your left palm with your right fist!).
If seeking an audience with a specific company in Chile, it is advisable to commence at the apex of the hierarchy, by contacting the secretary of the CEO, or equivalent. While companies may steer contact to a lower level, it is important that the Chilean company makes this decision. Your PR agency can help you in this process.
Initial contact mechanisms tend to be very formal, and in general business, introductions are made initially through a third party. Aim to have business cards with English on the front, and Spanish on the back, and avoid bringing gifts until a business relationship is established, to avoid awkward situations, and making hosts uncomfortable.
Never make the mistake of comparing Chile to Argentina. There has been much friction between the two countries historically, and the patriotic Chileans don’t enjoy any comparisons made.