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Antonio Cepeda-Benito

Personal Relationship First

Posted on January 20, 2009

Antonio Cepeda-Benito (bio) advises that researchers working in Latino countries follow cultural norms about personal and professional relationships.


I think the human contact, the person-to-person contact, particularly in these countries, is very important. And so you have to establish a personal relationship before you establish a professional relationship, and in Latino countries it's that way. I don't know in other countries.

But it is not polite to start talking about work right away. To give you an example, I go to Spain, and I say "Let's have a working meeting. I'm going to call this, this, and that. We'll meet at 10:00." So when we meet at 10:00, and we sit at a round table. And we're five, six investigators there. So the first half hour, we have to talk about soccer, politics, jokes, something else. And then, then we start talking about business. But you don't want to start talking about business right away. It kind of would be impolite.

It's like I spent a year in Spain on a sabbatical, and we rented a home. And the lady would come once a month to collect her rent. And so the polite thing is to invite her in, invite her to have coca-cola or some cookies or something, talk about whatever, and then after 15 minutes, 20 minutes, she would say, "Well, I have to go. I have to leave."

And then at that time it was my job to say, "Oh, wait, we have to pay you." "Oh, yes, okay." Because it would be impolite for her to directly ask for the money. So she came like to pay a visit, and like that translates into other things. Just to give you example that it's first a personal relationship and then the professional relationship

Spend a little bit of time up front presenting yourself as a human being, as a person, rather than as a researcher and this is my agenda. It's going to go a long way. Boundaries are a little bit more, not so clear as they are in the States. I mean, the concept that you have a business partner and you don't mix business with friendship and things like that is much more difficult in our culture; it's more difficult to maintain that separation.

So you have to learn to be somewhat, grow your tolerance for that and not be afraid of getting closer to people even though you have a professional relationship at the same time.

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Excerpted from an interview with researcher at the 2008 National Hispanic Science Network on Drug Abuse Conference in Bethesda, MD.

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