Cultural Differences in Power and Influence:


Argentine culture is a unique blend of European and South American influences. In fact, Argentina has been called the most European country in South America. Most Argentines can claim to have ancestral roots in Europe - principally from Spain, Italy, Germany, and Russia (mainly Jewish immigrants).

Congreso Nacional in Buenos Aires.
Photo by Luis Sandoval Mandujano/iStockphoto.

That said, the population is predominantly Catholic. As in most Catholic countries, the family is the center of the society's social structure, including not only one's immediate family but also second-, third-, and fourth cousins, aunts, and uncles, and so on. In Argentina, a person's family relationships and extended family connections within a broader family network are an important source of power and influence. In his study of cultural differences, Hofstede determined that Argentina is high in uncertainty avoidance, which means that as a group Argentines value certainty and stability. They favor rules, regulations, standards, traditions, and controls. They don't readily accept change but instead value predictability. Ironically, during the past half-century Argentina has had more than its share of political, social, and economic turmoil, and the people have experienced everything but certainty and stability, which may have heightened their need for it now.

Argentina tends to be a more formal culture than most other Latin American countries, so titles are important. As I say in The Elements of Power, titles are a badge of authority and using them with someone is a sign of respect. Having a formal role in a family or organizational hierarchy therefore tends to carry tremendous power.

Argentina is not as paternalistic as many cultures; in fact, the country rates high on gender egalitarianism. There are more women in positions of authority (the current president of Argentina is a woman), as well as less occupational segregation than in many countries. In terms of gender equality, Argentina is similar to Colombia, Mexico, Venezuela, Portugal, and Greece, as well as Canada, United Kingdom, Denmark, Sweden, and The Netherlands.

People in Argentina value social and family relationships. Loyalty is important to them, as is belongingness. They tend to emphasize seniority and experience, as well as connections with the right people and institutions. Where you attended school is important in this culture. Who you are is generally more important to them than what you do. Pedigree matters. Consequently, class differences are somewhat more pronounced in this culture than many others. There is less upward social mobility. Family relationships and position within the family provide both power and social order.

Finally, in Argentina, appearances matter. Dress, grooming, and decorum make a difference, particularly in business and high social circles. Argentines tend to be more personal and tactile than many cultures (e.g. Nordic, European, especially eastern European and Slavic countries). Argentines make strong eye contact and are likely to touch others socially. A pat on the back or touching of the shoulder would be common ways of affirming or connecting with other people.

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Sources of Power in Argentina

In Argentina, three sources of power are substantially more important than any of the others: character, attraction, and history. In most situations, these three personal sources of power will determine how much influence a person will have or how effectively he or she can lead others. The most important source of power in Argentina is character. Beyond honesty and integrity, character means honor and respect, particularly in this culture. Whether at home, in business, or in the community, people are expected to honor and respect people in positions of authority—patriarchs or matriarchs, esteemed doctors or professors, managers and executives, and so on. In return, the people in charge are expected to provide support, protection, and security for those below them. To build and sustain power in this culture, you must manifest strong character and have others see you as a person of character. In particular, you must show appropriate honor and respect for others and, if you're in charge, support and protect those who report to you.

Argentina's top three power sources

The second-strongest source of power in this culture is likability or attraction. In Argentina, appearance, sociability, and personality matter. Etiquette and social protocol matter. Behavior matters. This is true in part because Argentina is a very relationship-centric culture. Given the history of social and political upheaval in Argentina, personal relationships play an important role in creating a sense of safety and stability. Building relationships with people you like and trust-and maintaining those relationships over time-takes on greater importance in countries like Argentina where other social institutions (like the government) have not always been trustworthy or stable.

Notably, attraction power in Argentina is significantly more important than in most other countries in the world. In our research, Argentina ranked 7th (of 45 countries) in the strength of attraction as a power source. Argentina was ranked 6th globally on "building rapport and trust", 5th on "building close relationships with others", 6th on "being friendly and sociable with strangers", 4th on resolving conflicts and disagreements with others, and 5th on "sensitivity to others' feelings and needs." As a group, people in this culture have very high social and interpersonal skills and strong needs for personal connections and a sense of belonging.

Finally, history is a strong source of power, where history means "the length of time you've known someone and how well you know them." History is a strong source of power in every culture in the world. However, in Argentina, because social and family relationships are so important, history plays a stronger role.

Argentina's power ratings

In Argentina's power rankings, the next four power sources are clustered fairly close together, with expressiveness substantially higher than the others. In this culture, knowledge power is significantly less important than it is in most other countries in the world. These findings reflect the relationship orientation of Argentine culture. How well you communicate with others (how expressive you are) may be seen as one aspect of your likability. Obviously, your reputation is crucial, as is the breadth and quality of your networks.

Interestingly, what you know and what skills you have are less important in Argentina than they would be in most other countries. This is not to say that knowledge will not give you power in Argentina. It simply means that, relative to most other cultures, knowledge is typically less important as a source of power. However, highly skilled or knowledgeable people in Argentina would no doubt derive considerable power from their knowledge and skills. Nonetheless, character, attraction, and the other power sources shown above knowledge in these illustrations would typically be much stronger power sources in this country. What you know is less important than who you know.

The final cluster of power sources in Argentina includes information, role, and resources. These were rated lowest of the ten power sources among the Argentines included in our research. Like knowledge power, information power in Argentina was rated lower than it is in most other cultures. In high-relationship cultures, knowledge and information power are typically less important as sources of power.

Power sources, Argentina

However, role power is significantly more important in this country than the global norm. Overall, role power is ranked 9th of the ten power sources (and this is typical of most cultures), but if you are a person in a powerful role in Argentina, role power would rise to near the top of your list of power sources. Because people in powerful positions in Argentina are, for the most part, respected and may be revered, their role power is substantial. However, if you do not have a powerful role in this country, then you will be relying almost totally on your personal sources of power, along with reputation and network, to influence and lead others.

In summary, you will gain power in Argentina if the people you are trying to lead or influence know you, trust you, respect you, and like you. This is true in most cultures, but likability and respect are more important in this culture than in many others.

Furthermore, in Argentina, social class is the foundation for movement and influence within groups and organizations. Your social class, university affiliations, place of origin, title or rank, position in the hierarchy, company you work for-all of these indicate which social strata you belong to and therefore whom it is appropriate that you be dealing with in another company. The higher your social status, the more power you'll be accorded, and the more influential you are likely to be-if your appearance, decorum, and behavior match Argentines' perception of your social strata. Status is important in Argentina. Argentines prefer to do business with people of equal status, so your title and position will be important in commanding their respect and gaining acceptance. This is a crucial point. If you are an outsider, the amount of power you have will depend not only on your credibility and the reputation of your company or organization but also your likability and their perception of your “place� in your own company and society.

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Influence Techniques in Argentina

Our research shows that in every country in the world except one (New Zealand), the most frequently used technique for influencing others is logical persuading. This is the default influence technique people everywhere use most often, and it amounts to explaining why they want something or why they believe something is true based on facts, evidence, or logical reasoning.

Influence Techniques

After logical persuading, Argentines are most likely to lead or influence others by socializing (being friendly, engaging with people, and finding commonalities) and stating. These two techniques reflect the dual nature of Argentine culture—that relationships and socializing play such an important part in Argentine life but that people are also direct and forthright, sometimes to the point where outsiders might view them as argumentative or overly assertive. Indeed, in the GLOBE study of cultural differences, Argentina ranked high in assertiveness in practice, which means in part that they value direct and unambiguous communication.

In our research, Argentines were rated significantly more effective at using stating than the global norm. Stating means being direct, but their effectiveness is also based on how passionately they present their views. Argentina ranked 6th in the world on "stating a position passionately and with conviction" and 5th globally on "conveying energy and enthusiasm."

Because they are apt to communicate their thoughts and feelings expressively, they may come across as competitive, demanding, or challenging. In Argentina, for instance, it is common for people in discussions or meetings to interrupt one another and be demonstrative in making their points. This can be off-putting if you aren't used to it and may appear rude, but in this culture, it is a sign of being engaged and fully immersed in the dialogue. To show that you are engaged in the discussion, you need to be as confident in stating your views as people in this culture are.

In their high degree of cultural assertiveness, Argentines are similar to Australia, South Africa, United Kingdom, USA, Israel, Spain, Switzerland, Hungary, Colombia, Mexico, Venezuela, and South Korea.

Personal relationships matter a great deal in Argentina, so it makes sense that they would favor social strategies for leading and influencing others-particularly appealing to relationship, which relies on existing networks, alliances, or relationships with others. It is noteworthy that Argentines use appealing to relationship about as often as the global norm, but they are significantly more effective at it than people in most other cultures.

Influence Techniques for Argentina

The second cluster of influence techniques for Argentina begins with alliance building, which they use significantly more often and more effectively than people in most other countries in the world. In our research, Argentina ranked 1st in the world on "bringing people together to act in a common cause." These are key findings. They indicate that Argentines are adept at forging relationships, cooperating with others, forming coalitions, and using their family and professional connections to lead and influence people-and they are exceptionally good at doing this.

They are less likely to try to influence others by legitimizing (appealing to authority), appealing to values (inspiring), or modeling (influencing by role modeling, teaching, and coaching). It's not that they won't use these techniques upon occasion, but you are less likely to see these techniques than the five power tools (logical persuading, socializing, stating, consulting, and appealing to relationship) and alliance building.

Exchanging means negotiating or bartering for cooperation, and Argentines use this influence technique significantly less often than people in most other cultures. By and large, negotiating as a means of influencing in Argentina should be a technique of last resort.

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How to Influence Effectively in This Culture

  1. Character is the most important source of power in Argentina. So, first and foremost, ensure that you do nothing that could be construed as a lapse in character. Beyond honesty and integrity, what matters in this culture are honor, respect, and loyalty.
  2. Argentina is a highly relationship-oriented culture, so it's essential to build and nurture relationships with the people you want to influence. Taking the time to build close relationships will increase your influence; failing to do so will diminish it.
  3. Attraction or likability is highly important in this culture. Dress, grooming, openness, personality, and sociability matter. If you want to be influential here, especially in business and high social circles, you must dress appropriately, be well groomed, be approachable and likable, and be able to socialize gracefully and effectively.
  4. Don't expect your knowledge or access to information to be enough to influence people in Argentina. What you know is less important than who you are and who you know. So presenting yourself as an expert will not suffice; you must also make good connections with people.
  5. Identify and work with your hierarchical counterparts in Argentine companies-those whose status reflects yours. Show appropriate respect for Argentine managers or executives in higher-level positions.
  6. Despite their social orientation, people in this culture will expect your ideas and proposals to be logical and make sense. So be rational and factual. Offer supporting data or documentation. Just remember that building relationships is at least as important as building sound arguments.
  7. Use social events-dinners, parties, sporting events-to build relationships with your business counterparts. In meetings, begin and end with enough socializing to help them feel comfortable. Don't force the business agenda; let them get down to business at their pace.
  8. They are comfortable stating their views directly and passionately. Don't let this intimidate you. They expect you to be as open and committed as they are.
  9. Remember that Argentines are highly skilled at alliance building. If circumstances permit, build supporters for your case. Build and use your networks to create alliances of your own that can subtly influence opinions and decisions.
  10. Despite the advice offered here, avoid cultural stereotyping. The most effective influencers are observant and respond to the cues others offer.

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