A Little Business Etiquette Please!

Forget punctuality… is a bit of honesty too much to ask? Chilean “Business Meeting Etiquette” has a long way to go!

I’ll admit it right up front. This post comes from anger. I’m not going to say that this is a “Chilean thing” and I’m not even saying that this is common here, but I will say that the only times I have ever seen this happen have been right here in Santiago. Just bad practice and an incredible lack of respect for others.

I’m talking about business meetings… how hard is it to schedule an appointment and stick with it? We’re professionals. We’re all busy, but c’mon, how about a little respect please? I’m not talking about people showing up a half hour late without acknowledgement (or apology) for the hour. You get used to that here. I’m not even talking about meetings that get canceled at the last minute  or even those that get forgotten (I admit my own guilt there). Something happened today that has me shaking my head and wondering how some people look themselves in the mirror…

Here’s the story. My boss (Chilean) and I went to a meeting last week and were told upon arriving that it had been cancelled. A pain, a long drive wasted, but it happens. The exchange of emails that ensued determined that the receptionist had been confused, that it was the meeting BEFORE ours that had been canceled, so sorry. Ok. It happens. We rescheduled.

A couple days ago we confirmed and reconfirmed the meeting for today. This time the receptionist informed us that the person was in a meeting and would we wait? Half hour. Ok. We had come a long way and didn’t want to waste the opportunity (again), so ok. It happens. We settled in to wait. Read the paper—half hour—discussed other projects—another half hour—so we ask again. “Sorry, should be any time.” So we wait some more and I’m really regretting not having my laptop along to be able to do some real work. Another half hour and now we’re playing poker on the blackberry.

Why would we wait so long? Because it was an important meeting to present an important project and we really think this place is the right fit, so we waited, I’m embarrassed to say, more than 2 hours before we finally gave up.

In the meantime our own secretary was calling their office to see what she could find out. It turns out that an hour and a half into our wait the managers had all gone to lunch and wouldn’t be back til 3:00… All this time with us (and a dozen other people) waiting in reception. Total lack of respect.

Back at the office, more email swapping… this time with the lame excuse that “I sent you a mail this morning to call off the meeting.” Does this person think we’re idiots? Apparently.

But we’ll go back again next week, smiley faces in place. These are difficult times. Everyone wants to do business and there’s just so much to go around… but what does it take to keep a little bit of common courtesy in place? How hard would it be to say to the secretary… “please cancel my appointments for this morning”? Why is it so hard to put oneself in the other person’s shoes? C’mon!

6 responses to “A Little Business Etiquette Please!

  1. What assholes… what kind of people are these? and that’s not a rhetorical question! I’ve only worked in a small Chilean consultancy and a large Australian company and in both companies, never-ever-ever we would have done that to anybody.

    As consultants we were sometimes made to wait up to 30 minutes, but it was always with an apology and it was sort of part of the job: you were presenting to the busiest person in the company and they frequently have fires to put out.

    Surely such kind of assholes will make for difficult clients, so watch out!

  2. Pretty rotten way to treat people, hm? But they’re in a position of power and everyone wants their attention right now and they know it. I really don’t think it’s a case of wanting to make us suffer, but just having little or no consideration of the other guy (being us, in this case).
    And, as I said in the beginning, I am in no way saying that this is the norm here, but it does happen and I really needed to blow off some steam!

  3. Although you state that such behaviour isn’t the norm here in Chile and that you were blowing off steam, I feel like the root of the problem gets at the fact that many Chileans (not all) have a hard time telling it to you straight, especially if it puts them out. I mean, how many times have you ever asked for answers regarding something at work and the subject just gets danced around? Sometimes I’ll send a question to someone and get an answer that is nada que ver with what I asked. I feel like in your situation, these potential clientes were plain rude & selfish, but get at the point of how come they couldn’t have just told their secretary to cancel all the meetings for the day?

  4. Right. That’s my point. I mean anyone can have their day all planned and then the boss comes along and changes it all around… It happens anywhere on Earth, right? But there are correct ways to deal with those awkward situations. Sure, this person may have been embarrassed that yet once again we weren’t going to be able to meet, but I just don’t get why they wouldn’t make the best of a bad situation and cancel… or at LEAST check on us before going to lunch!
    And I know what you mean about getting weird answers. Sometimes I wonder where the gap in communication is. It’s not language… it must be cultural!

  5. From personal experience in Ecuador, Argentina, Chile and Spain (the latter very little experience but experience nonetheless), Spanish speakers are pathologically incapable of giving straight answers if they’re unsure of something and find it extremely difficult to give negative answers. Try asking 10 people in the street for directions and you’ll get, probably, 4 or 5 different answers. If they don’t know, many people won’t just say, ‘Sorry, I don’t know’…they’ll give you detailed directions to nowhere in particular so they don’t have to admit they have no idea. It’s the same with bureaucracy in Latin countries…you need to ask multiple people the same question and then collate all the information you receive. It’s frustrating and really kind of sad that you can’t trust out of hand what an average person is saying to you…but I guess you get used to it after a while. It doesn’t really bother me any more.

    I’ve had several business experiences like yours over 5 and half years in Lat Am…but all in Argentina. I’ve been lucky enough not to have to deal with idiots here in Chile and go out of my way to ensure I don’t have anything to do with people who are unprofessional -it’s hard work sometimes 🙂

  6. In general, I’ve had good luck with things like getting information from people in the street, but like you, my business dealings with Argentines have definitely been “more challenging.” I suspect that Chileans are generally more straight-forward than in other Latin American countries, but it really does take a while to get used to understanding what is real and what is just talk.

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