Business Etiquette

Nicaragua remains one of the truly informal societies, and this extends to business situations. Formal attire is used only at the most formal occasions, and over-dressing is considered in poor taste. Dressing more formally is acceptable for a first contact meeting. Subsequent meetings are normally more relaxed. The four pocketed-shirt guyabera worn in many Latin countries, is still in use by many businessmen.

Another important aspect of the informality of the business environment is related to time, which, as in most Latin countries, is very relaxed. It is completely acceptable to arrive for a meeting at least 20 minutes late. Thirty minutes is the outside limit. After 40 minutes, it is considered a clear insult unless a very reasonable excuse is offered. Tardiness is acceptable both in arriving for a meeting and in being received upon arriving for a prearranged meeting. All meetings are prearranged.

Plan plenty of time at the end of the meeting. Meetings in Nicaragua come to a natural conclusion, rather than being determined by a clock. Rushing off to another meeting is viewed as disinterest in the people who are at the present meeting, and placing more important on your next meeting or task. It is, in all reality, considered rude.

It is common courtesy to proffer a business card. However, many people still do not carry them, although this practice is increasing. It is best to have one, particularly if you are a foreigner since foreign names are often more easily understood if they are written down. So, to facilitate this, extend your business card as you introduce yourself. Pronounce your name clearly.

Nicaraguans are very physical, warm and affectionate in general. A handshake is often accompanied with the opposite hand being extended to the other person’s shoulder, or gently holding the other person’s arm above the elbow. Among more familiar associates, a warm embrace among men is also common.

Women frequently kiss one another on their cheeks when greeting one another, and this may be repeated when saying good-bye. A man who has a long-standing professional relationship with a woman may also kiss her on the cheek. If the relationship is also of a friendly nature, a kiss on the cheek is common. Again, this may happen when greeting one another and when departing. If there is concern about making an error, it is wise to err on the side of the warmer greeting. If the receiving person considers it too forward, they will most likely go along with it and appreciate the attempt at local customs. Erring on the more distant, colder option is received as a rejection. Although not a critical error, it doesn’t leave the best first impression.

During a discussion, it is not uncommon for people to touch the person sitting beside them, placing their hand on their neighbor’s forearm or shoulder to make a point. Eye contact is plentiful, relaxed and encouraged. Being physically relaxed and capable of respectful body contact is a must for the successful businessperson in Nicaragua. Difficulty with this is readily detected and insights a sense of wariness and doubt. It goes without saying that the physical contact should never be misconstrued. Inappropriate body contact is not appreciated, and while the person may not overtly react, it will have a lasting impact on your relationship. Occasionally this is used strategically to the disadvantage of the person later on.

Finally, it is common to hear men and women alike complement the appearance of a colleague. In fact, it is expected, particularly by women. However, be careful to be respectful, to make the complement in public and not to dwell on it.

All of these rules, as well as many others, are easily learned by simply observing Nicaraguans interact with one another. They are very open in their treatment of one another, and always pleased to see a foreigner trying to fit into local customs.