Global Cultural Business Analysis- Colombia


This paper allows the opportunity to take an in-depth look into the culture of the country of Columbia and how the culture affects business within the country and how it ultimately compares and contrasts with The United States.

The research is broken down into four areas: The major elements and dimensions of culture in Columbia; how these elements and dimensions are integrated by locals conducting business in Columbia; a comparison of culture and business of Columbia and The United States; and finally implications for US businesses that wish to conduct business in Columbia. The author desires that this paper will provide the information to be beneficial to a business person about to work in Columbia.

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Culture is defined as the “set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterize a society, or in the business sense, an organization” (Saterlee, 2009). Knowing these dimensions of a foreign country beforehand determines how successful someone working in a multinational company could be. A business manager must learn and adapt to their environment. Knowing and understanding the people and what makes them tick should be the top priority of a business manager working over, or alongside, foreign co-workers.

Working in different countries requires building a specialized set of skills that can be achieved by simply researching the country’s climate, culture, etc. and it’s these skills that can make or break deals (Gabrial, 2012). The major elements and dimensions of culture in Columbia Background and History Columbia is a country rich in culture and history. Artifacts place the earliest Indian tribes in present-day Columbia as far back as 1200 B. C. The Spanish conquistadors discovered and settled in the coastal areas in 1500. The Spanish settlers were responsible for establishing the Roman Catholic Church, governance, and education in Columbia.

Columbia declared their independence on July 20, 1810, and achieved it in 1819. The country is made up of a broad mix of Indians, Spanish descent, and African origins. “The distinct groups have their customs, social patterns and cultural adaptations and are classified into three cultures: those in the interior, those in the countryside, and those residing in the coastal areas” (Everyculture). The groups rarely unite for a common goal. Geert Hofstede Analysis for Columbia Professor Geert Hofstede conducted one of the most comprehensive studies of how values in the workplace are influenced by culture.

The dimensions are as follows: Power Distance (the degree to which the less powerful members of a society accept and expect that power is distributed unequally), Individualism versus Collectivism (preference of a loosely-knit social framework versus a preference for a tightly-knit framework), Masculinity versus Femininity (preference for achievement, heroism, assertiveness, and material reward for success versus a preference for cooperation, modesty, caring for the weak and quality of life), Uncertainty Avoidance (expresses the degree to which the members of a society feel uncomfortable with uncertainty and ambiguity), and lastly, Long-term versus short-term orientation (a belief that truth depends very much on situation, context, and time versus great respect for traditions, normative thinking, and a strong concern with establishing the absolute truth).

Columbia has a high power distance score, which means that inequalities amongst people are simply a fact of life. Columbia is among the lowest of individualistic scores. This means it is one of the most collectivistic cultures in the world. This means that loyalty, belonging to in-groups, and relationships take priority, Conflicts are avoided. Columbia ranks high on the masculinity/femininity scale, therefore making it a masculine society. Columbians are competitive, success-oriented, and driven. A high masculinity score and collectivist dimension mean that competition is directed towards members of other groups, or social classes, and not towards peers.

Columbia has a high uncertainty avoidance score (UA), which means they are seeking to avoid ambiguity as a nation. UAA is also reflected in religion. (Columbia-Geert Hofstede). Language and Communication The official language in Columbia is Spanish. All Columbians speak Spanish except the indigenous populations. The upper social classes speak English in the major cities, but it is not commonly used nor understood well. Outside urban areas, Spanish is the only mode of communication. Columbia also has over 200 indigenous languages and dialects. Religion The dominant religion in Columbia is Roman Catholic, with over 95% of the population practicing Catholicism.

The Spanish began the conversion to Roman Catholic in the sixteenth century and institutionalization of Catholicism was a high priority. Until 1991, the Columbian constitution designated the Roman Catholic Church as the state church. Afterward, two articles were added to provide freedom of worship. The overwhelming Catholic belief correlates with the high uncertainty avoidance score and the belief in only one truth. The church has historically been influential over personal affairs such as marriage and family life, education, social welfare, and union organization. At the beginning of Columbia’s independence, the only bank in existence was run by the church, which made loans to estate owners. (Kalmanovitz, 2000).

The church has been involved with labor organizations since the mid-nineteenth century. It was instrumental in the formation of various political pressure groups and labor unions. The population, in general, observes the formal acts of Catholicism. Attendance at mass is high, particularly among women. Rural communities are typically more devout. Family Columbian society revolves around family. Loyalty is shown to families because it is a source of support and advice. Children usually live at home until married and extended family live very close and frequent one another’s home quite often. Family structure in Columbia emphasizes hierarchical relationships. Family members respect their elders for their age and experience.

As a result of colonial influence, the household organization is still marked by sexual segregation and a difference between male and female goals and aspirations (Everyculture). Men occupy the dominant role in the household and are deemed the breadwinner and disciplinarians. Female roles vary as a result of the economy. Upper-class women avoid working outside the hole to preserve status. Women from the lower and middle classes hold jobs outside the home to contribute to the family’s well-being. Upper-class families usually have more children than families from lower classes. Columbia can be classified as a hierarchical society. In a group, the oldest person is served first.

Columbians expect the most senior person, whether at home or work, to make decisions. Social Classes Despite the wealth and stability of Columbia, the majority of its citizens are poor leaving Columbia with the second most inequitable distribution of wealth in the Western Hemisphere (Brittain; Sacouman, 2008). The richest one percent controls forty-five percent of the wealth causing the disparity. In addition to the typical upper, middle, lower class system, Columbia has a strict stratified social system that classifies individuals by where they live, type of house, and other factors in addition to the typical income factor (Giunta; Marquez, 2011). A wide gap separates the elitists from the rest of the masses.

This group has few opportunities for social advancement. Members of the lower class are often malnourished, illiterate, and subject to poor health and housing. White people with European ancestry dominate the upper class. Mestizos and Mulatttoes make up the middle and lower classes. Blacks and Indians make up a significant portion of the lower class. Etiquette and Customs Columbian greetings can be characterized as traditional. Men shake hands with direct eye contact while women often grasp forearms. The appropriate greeting for the time of day should be used while shaking hands. Greetings become warmer once a friendship has been developed.

Columbian people should always be referred to with their appropriate title and surname. Dining etiquette is very formal in Columbia. They tend to give importance to decorum. The typical guidelines are to be followed while dining. Wait to be seated by the host, keep hands visible while eating, do not rest elbows on the table, try everything that you are given, and try to eat everything with utensils. Violence is every bit a part of Columbian culture as some of the dimensions researched above. The violence includes the national army, rebel army, paramilitary groups, and armed drug traffickers. It is so prevalent in the society that it has become accepted as part of everyday life.

Columbia has a history of civil wars and violence that goes back 150 years. It affects social life, business dealings, politics, and contributes to Columbia being known for below-average human rights. Three indicators point to a culture of violence: frequency and intensity, a widespread propensity to violence, and a lack of taboos and rules that would limit the use of violence (Waldmann, 2007). Another reason is the prevalent tension between the upper and lower class combined with an inadequately developed middle class (Waldmann, 2007). The violence is sometimes very brutal and includes massacres, assassinations, and kidnappings.

The poverty-stricken lower classes join the groups as a means of income. Foreign travelers are kidnapped and held for ransom, most times never being seen again. The drug trade has sparked intense competition that contributed to even more violence between cartels and drug traffickers. In Columbia, culture influences violence, violence influences culture. How are these elements and dimensions integrated by locals conducting business in Columbia? Business Etiquette and Columbian Nuances I feel the most important aspect of Columbian business is the vertical hierarchy. It should be respected and knowing who the elder or highest-ranking people in the room will save a lot of trouble and embarrassment.

Those at the top deserve the most respect and attention, as they will be the ones making the decisions. It is common to seek opinions and consensus from subordinates. Columbians maintain a formal approach to business dealings while remaining flexible. Meetings will not start on time and small talk concerning family or other personal information first will aid in developing a relationship. Social events are an integral part of the business culture so invitations should always be accepted. It is an ideal time to nurture relationships and also learn about Columbian culture. Columbians prefer to conduct business over lunch and they will usually last several hours.

Gender Equality/Inequality

The dominant role men play in the Columbian household is just as prevalent in the office. Women have made remarkable advances in Columbian society and have become just as educated, if no more, than their male counterparts and have begun to hold high-level positions in the corporate world. Unfortunately, the culture they live in still holds women inferior to men. While Columbia has one of the largest female labor participation rates in Latin America, a sizeable gender wage gap exists (Badel; Pena, 2010). Glass ceiling and quicksand floor concepts exist at both extremes of wage levels, with me earning more for the same work. Another explanation for the increase in the gender wage gap is the protections put in place for women.

Labor regulations put in place to protect women are raising the cost of hiring them for firms and therefore lowering the amount the firms want to pay them (Angel-Urdinola; Wodon, 2003). Fortunately, the Columbian culture is catching up to the modern way of thinking, and women are making their mark in the corporate world. Columbian society is becoming more accepting of female leadership. Women are characterized as hard workers and driven to success. One of the cultural negatives, violence, makes women in Columbia stronger than those in other countries and able to compete with male counterparts for advancement. Of course, this change is only in the cities where opportunities exist.

Those in the rural regions and the lower class are unable to make this climb to the top. Negotiating Since Columbia is a collectivist culture, relationships are extremely important. This dynamic has a strong effect on the negotiation strategy. Columbians will want to get to know someone and form a bond before jumping straight into the process. Establishing personal relationships with others in Columbia can create very powerful networks and may help you a lot to achieve your business objectives (Katz, 2006). In a sense, this is more important than the business dealing itself. Columbians prefer not confrontational approaches and do not want to gain competitive advantages negatively.

The culture prefers long-term benefits with a win-win approach. Negotiations will most likely be slow. Columbians do not get in a hurry and normally dislike people who do. They will also jump back and forth between topics instead of following any kind of order. Columbians rarely change their position or compromise much because they see it as weakness. This is a pride issue and they have a hard time swallowing it. Corruption and bribery are common. There is a fine line between gift-giving and bribes in Columbia. Corruption Columbian’s “anything goes” mentality is the basis for the corruption that takes place in business, government, and politics.

Transparency International consistently gives Columbia a poor corruption score and the costs of fraud reach into the millions of dollars every year. Society suffers from these fraudulent behaviors yet they remain apathetic to the practices. Most of the corruption takes place between business and government dealings. Examples of this would be infrastructure contracts where contracts make bribes or politicians get kickbacks. There are few protections for whistleblowers and the threats and harassment aren’t worth raising a flag. The Columbian people’s desire for quick wealth leads to every aspect of society being susceptible to corruption. Business Hierarchy/Family in Business Family is just as central in business culture as it is outside of it.

The importance of family is evident in a business culture where family members are often found working for the same company and many businesses are family-owned. This concept, called nepotism, can be defined as favoritism based on kinship and not merit. Most companies are very hierarchical like a typical Columbian family. Decision-makers are heads of family or senior executives who consider the best interest of the business. Authority is rarely delegated. How do both of the above items compare with US culture and business? Geert Hofstede Dimension Analysis: Comparison between The US and Columbia For the most part, The US is exactly the opposite of Columbia according to the Geert Hofstede cultural analysis of each country.

Someone in The US sent to work in Columbia would be completely out of his/her norm and would need to do a lot of homework to prepare for the assignment. The US scores low on the power distance dimensions. This means we feel equal as a country. In business, a chain of command is established for ease. Superiors are accessible and rely on subordinates for expertise and results. In Columbia, equality is non-existent. The US has a very high Individualism score. This means that we are not as close as a society when compared to Columbia. We tend to only look after our immediate family and ourselves. We are not shy and have no problem interacting with strangers.

Unlike Columbia, we don’t feel the need to develop relationships in order to conduct business. Also, the practice of hiring families is strongly frowned upon. Unlike Columbia, it is seen as detrimental to business culture. The US has a slightly higher than the median score in the Masculinity/Femininity dimension. This is the one area we are dead even with Columbia. Both nations are highly competitive and strive to be the best. Both also desire a higher status and that is usually the ultimate goal of working hard. The US has a low score in uncertainty avoidance, compared to a high score by Columbia. We are “uncertainty accepting”. We are more accepting of new ideas and more willing to try something new. (www. geert-hofstede. com)


Ethics and moral business practices are two areas where the US and Columbia are on opposite ends of the spectrum. In America, ethics are an important part of business culture. We believe in fairness and everyone complying with laws and accepted practices. While fraud and corrupt business dealings still happen, the perpetrators are punished severely. As a culture, we value business ethics and incorporate them into our daily lives at work. Companies in The US have ethics classes and seminars that employees must attend. Management ensures that subordinates know right from wrong and the repercussions from choosing the latter. We empower employees to do the right thing and praise whistleblowers for bringing corrupt behavior to light.

With exception of the few rogue individuals obsessed with personal gain, I feel that we excel at keeping a level playing field and following the rules. Columbia on the other hand knowingly participates in corrupt practices with complete disregard to the rules or the punishments. Corruption and personal gain are unfortunately engrained in their cultural DNA. Since so many people live in poverty, doing what it takes to make quick money takes precedence to rules and laws. “The dominant trends in Columbian law account for crime by class struggle theory or by sociological factors such as poverty that justify it” (Kalmanovitz, 2000). While the nation is doing everything possible to correct the problems and punish those accordingly, change will be slow.

With corrupt people in the government, law enforcement, and upper management in business, no one is leading by example. Communication Columbia is characterized as a high context country, and The US a low. These cultural differences affect communication. Communication is fundamental in business since it is a collaborative activity. Regardless of the type, communication drives business functions and it will differ from one country to another. Not knowing how to effectively communicate and convey thoughts in a way the host nation will understand can be detrimental to business dealings. “Examining Columbians’ use of the “you” pronouns, tu/vos/usted, provides evidence of its high-context nature.

While a low-context culture such as the US uses the simple straightforward “you” pronoun, the Columbian high-context culture differentiates between an informal, formal, and intermediate form. The appropriate form must be chosen based on context” (Bello, Brandau-Brown, Ragsdale; Thibodeaux, 2006). High and Low-context differences also affect how subordinates may be supervised. Low-context cultures will put policies and procedures in manuals or memos and employees are expected to consult those for guidance. “Because company norms in a high-context culture must be communicated personally, close supervision is essential” (Hooker, 2008).


Both the United States and Columbia can be characterized as religious nations. The main difference is that the US is a lot more diverse with many religions. The majority of Americans consider themselves Christians. Even though Columbia amended its constitution in 1991 for freedom of religion, the country is mostly Roman Catholic and it’s considered the state religion. Even though there is a high involvement in religious activities for both countries, in America, this involvement is seldom into the working life of American leaders (Payne, 2010). There is an unconscious effect of religion in business practices. Fraud and corruption are not only illegal but also immoral. But these practices are written into laws.

Too many times we consciously turn a blind eye to wrongdoings, especially in Columbia’s case where corruption runs rampant. Both countries need to consciously transmit their beliefs in all business activities. Business Etiquette Columbia and the United States are like night and day when it comes to most business practices. The first would be scheduling. In America, when a meeting is scheduled, the set time is just that. In my meetings for example, if you’re not at least five minutes early, you’re late. I think that concept is practiced by most in the American business culture. If you can’t make a simple meeting in time, how can you perform more complex tasks?

In Columbia, coming in late or starting late is the norm. The first part of the meetings will be small talk. Good topics are sports, history, or coffee. Under no circumstances should you joke or ask about Columbia’s violence or history of drug trafficking. Secondly, US meetings usually follow a strict format or outline. We discuss one topic at a time and do not move forward until we’ve come to a conclusion or agreement. Columbians will tend to discuss many topics at once and jump around. They do not have any type of flow that they stick to. Another is is negotiation tactics. Columbians do not respond to aggressive bargaining or negotiations.

In the US, aggressive business tactics are expected. To us, negotiations are a competition or battle, with each side wanting to win by making the other side back down or compromise. What are the implications for US businesses that wish to conduct business in that region? Preparation Working for a transnational company and dealing with another culture requires education, training, and experience. The way you carry yourself in one country could lead to many misunderstandings and problems in another. It is imperative to do plenty of research to improve your cultural intelligence. Understanding the cultural nuances of the host country will help when conducting business.

Behavior modification will be necessary to accommodate cultural differences. Successor failure is dependent upon the work done before stepping out of the airport in your new home. Leading and Managing International managers cannot assume that leadership behaviors effective in one culture can be readily transferred to other cultures (Pillai, Scandura; Williams, 1999). A comparison of Hofstede’s analyses of the US and Columbia will show that we are much different, and therefore, leadership styles will have to be adjusted for success in Columbia. The study by Pillai, Scanduara, and Williams proved that Columbians respond better to leader-member exchange (LMX) instead of traditional leadership.

LMX is defined as “the quality of the relationship between a superior and a subordinate” (Pillai, Scaudura; Williams). High-quality exchanges between subordinates and leaders have relationships based on loyalty and trust. This makes perfect sense considering Columbia’s need for close relationships. The better the relationship, the better the understanding between manager and subordinate, and ultimately the subordinate succeeding. A leader or manager from the US will need to spend time getting to know his/her people, identifying with them, and gaining their absolute trust. The leader will need to be seen and join in with his/her employees, visit their work areas, and even join in and assist them.

The leader from the US is not only forming a partnership with the new company but with each foreign employee in that company. Language It is imperative that the liaison, manager, or leader be highly fluent in Spanish. Columbia has a tradition of maintaining proper Spanish brought from the first settlers through schools and academies. The only English language heard will be in the larger cities by educated people, but even there it is not used much at all and not understood well. Not knowing Spanish well will lead to communication breakdowns and misunderstandings. Columbians are very social people so there will be a lot of talking and getting to know each other.

Take time to think about what you are saying and why you are saying it. There is no need to be overly aggressive with communication. Successful business dealings will be had from successfully forming proper relationships. Violence is a large part of Columbian culture and daily life. People traveling to Columbia for work will need to expect that and be prepared. This is one area that needs to be researched extensively so an employee working in Columbia knows what precautions to take and areas to avoid. “Large Columbian and transnational business organizations keep a low profile to avoid acts of violence inflicted on their representatives” (Molleda; Suarez, 2005).

Para-military groups and guerillas commonly use kidnapping and ransom as a source of income. Executives for large companies, particularly foreign ones, are prime targets for these groups. Business Etiquette and Protocol It’s important to know the differences between the US and Columbia when conducting business in Columbia. Given that it’s a hierarchical country, knowing the proper chain of command will help when needing decisions made. A foreign employee should know all proper titles and names so as not to disrespect anyone in the host nation. Women visitors should be careful to not make any glances or gestures that could be considered flirtatious. If someone makes a mistake, do not correct him or her in public.

Doing so will cause a loss of face and ruin the relationship. Women should be assertive, yet respectful, to unwanted attention by Columbian men. Trade Columbia has many exports in industries such as coffee, bananas, precious stones, oil, and coal. A trade pact between the US and Columbia recently went active. This trade pact will make 80% of exports to Columbia duty-free. Columbia has also created trade agreements with other Latin American countries and is seeking agreements with many other nations. Columbia has become very aggressive with creating and expanding business. Conclusion Columbia is a rich and diverse nation, with a culture completely different from that of the United States.

While still behind other countries in some ways, they are making strides to become a dominant force in the global business market. Expanding trade and decreasing violence and corruption are key priorities to welcoming new business. Columbia has a unique culture that would be challenging to a foreign businessperson. These challenges can be overcome with proper research, comparing and contrasting cultures, and experiencing the host country first hand.


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