Formalities are a fundamental Mexican business practice. Unlike the U.S. where people begin calling each other by the first name, Mexicans have a more formal manner of addressing each other. During introductions, you should use the person’s last name preceded by Señor for men or Señorita for women. Do not address a woman as Señora. Señora is only used when addressing a married woman. This assumption can be dangerous. If the woman is married or elderly, she will be flattered you addressed her as Señorita. If the woman is married, she will tell you.
Professional titles are very important in Mexico. Two of the most common titles are Ingeniero for engineers and computer programmers and Licenciado for attorneys. Licenciado is also used when referring to someone with a college degree. Licenciado is for men while Licenciada is for women. Lic. is the abbreviation for Licenciado/a and Ing. for Ingeniero/a.
Learn the person’s title as soon as possible and start using it. If the person you are talking with is a Licenciado, instead of having to say Lic. Perez each time you want to address the person, you can simply say Licenciado. The use of the title by itself is perfectly acceptable. We often use titles when speaking to certain people such as “Officer”, “Counselor” and “Doctor”.
Your Mexican host will probably refer to you as Licenciado. In its own way, a title lets you know how the other person views you. If you are doing business, whether by phone or in person, most Mexican professionals will assume you are a Licenciado meaning you have a college degree. If you are introduced or addressed in this manner, accept it and understand they will probably address you as Licenciado during your talk.
Understanding titles is critical because you will use them in all of your communications. A while back, I attended one of the largest medical industry trade expos in the U.S., the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA). I was introduced to a Regional Sales Director for a successful U.S. manufacturer, Dunlee. This company does international business with Canada and Mexico. I expected a director to know about the most elementary Mexican business titles.
The Directory had a follow up letter mailed to me. Since I was representing companies from Mexico, the Director may have made a note that the letter should be addressed to a Mexican professional. Imagine my surprise when I received the letter from this international company addressed to Mr. Lic. Villasana. What does this tell me about the company? Someone in that organization has no clue as to how titles work in Mexico.
If I were a Mexican business person receiving this message, I would know the company had taken no interest in knowing the absolute fundamentals of how to address me. It means whoever addressed the letter, the Director or a subordinate, did not understand that “Lic.” is not a nickname or an short hand for a person’s name.
I told this story to a couple of Mexican professionals. One simply could not believe U.S. businesses could make such a mistake. After the other professional stopped laughing, his comment was similar to, “That’s terrible!” The professionals both agreed this disregard or ignorance with titles showed, at the very least, a careless attitude toward doing business with Mexican companies.
I tell you this story to better represent the significant need to understand how fundamental titles are in your communications. Get this right and you will have set the foundation for good business relations in Mexico.