Understand cultural differences to improve your management

Understanding the basics of communication in different cultures can go a long way in promoting positive manager-employee relations.

The large influx and availability of workers of Hispanic origin into the U.S. dairy and Ag industries in the last 15 years calls for dairy managers to understand key cultural differences. Those managers that take the time to learn, appreciate and work with these differences have a distinctive business advantage.

In general, we can describe culture from the context people use when communicating. In that respect, we can broadly differentiate Anglos, Americans and Northern Europeans from Hispanics. The following table shows some of the differences between low context cultures (i.e. Anglos and Americans) and high context cultures (i.e. Hispanics).

Low Context Cultures High Context Cultures
Individual achievement stressed Harmony in the group stressed
Individual Group (Family)
Tend to see each other as equals Tend to need a formal/established hierarchy
Business before relationships Relationships and trust before business

You can see how these differences make it particularly difficult for a dairy owner/general manager to, for example, promote a person of Hispanic origin to a management or leadership position. The Hispanic person places high importance on their harmony with their group/family, and a promotion would challenge that.

There are several differences between Anglo American and Hispanic cultures in how they communicate. These are not black and white differences, but in general, Anglos tend to use communication purely as an exchange of information whereas Hispanics will use communication to build relationships (see table below). Anglos might be uncomfortable with someone talking to them standing really close to them or even touching them. Hispanics, on the other hand, will be OK standing really close when speaking to other people, often even using touches on the shoulder, hugs and handshakes as signs of friendship and appreciation. The manager that places a hand over the employee’s shoulder while praising them for a job well done will likely get a more motivated employee than just saying “thanks”.

A typical reaction managers get from Hispanic employees is that the employee won’t look the manager in the eyes, or will look down when being given directions for a particular task. The manager feels the employee is being disrespectful when, in fact, it is out of respect and loyalty that the employee is avoiding eye contact. The following table shows specific differences in communication between Anglo Americans and Hispanics.

Item Anglo American Hispanic
Exchange information Build relationships
Distance (speaking)
2 ft. Closer
No need, uncomfortable Sign of friendship, hugs, shake hands
Eye contact
Expected Not necessary, sometimes disrespectful
Derived from words Derived from context (setting, status, non- verbal)

Related Links:

Link to Management of Hispanic Workers on New York Dairy Farms: A Survey of Farm Managers

Link to Paper listing resources for communicating with Hispanic employees


Jorge M. Estrada

Jorge M. Estrada
4 articles

Jorge is the founder and CEO of Leadership Coaching International, Inc. an entity focused on Organizational Development, Leadership Development, Executive coaching and training.

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Leadership Coaching International

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