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How to Ask Latinos? Understanding Cultural Differences to Conduct Better Interviews with Latinos

Posted by: Efrain Gutierrez on 12/16/2011

Note: This post originally appeared on AEA365, the American Evaluation Association's blog.

I am Efrain Gutierrez and I work for FSG, a nonprofit consulting firm that helps foundations, nonprofits and corporations increase their social impact. Before working for FSG I worked for the US Consulate in Guadalajara Mexico where I experienced a lot interaction between Mexicans and Americans. My work at the consulate helped me discover and understand some key cultural differences that distinguish our cultures. Now as an evaluator I have been reflecting on how understanding some of those differences can help evaluators perform more cultural competent evaluations with Latinos.

Lesson Learned – The concept “time is money” defines one of the fundamental differences between Mexican and American culture and affects the way evaluators interact when they are conducting interviews with people from Mexico. Time has high value in America, and evaluators in the US tend to be very concise and to the point when they are conducting interviews. However, Mexican interviewees might be working under a different assumption: “It’s better to have friends than money” (very popular saying in Mexico), and will start holding casual conversations to build sympathy and buy-in before delving into the topic at hand.

Hot tip – Take the time to build rapport with your Latino interviewees and don’t feel uncomfortable talking about unrelated topics (e.g., family or sports) before getting to the interview questions. Building relationships is very important and rushing to the interview questions can be perceived as rude.

Lesson Learned – Another important difference between our two cultures has to do with the use of language. Americans tend to communicate with direct messages, while Mexicans tend to preface a message extensively, or use indirect language to communicate. For example, instead of relaying confrontational or bad news, a grantee will talk about seemingly unrelated topics to explain what happened.

Hot tip – Don’t try to force your Latino interviewee to be direct when they are using indirect or circular language. Instead, let the interviewee talk about those seemingly unrelated topics and look for relevant information that can help you answer the interview questions. Remember that nothing is really unrelated. When necessary, use words that will narrow interviewees’ answers. (e.g., “What was the result of your interaction with the job agency? Did you find a job after visiting the job agency?”)

BIG lesson learned – Culture is just one part of someone’s persona. Make sure you don’t try to explain everything a person says or does based on their cultural heritage; always think about alternative explanations for someone’s behavior.


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