While implementing bi-national infrastructure projects on the Mexico-U.S. border, culture is a vitally important factor in the day-to-day negotiation process.

We consider culture to be a system of symbols that translates into behaviors which may then function as a bridge for communication or may create obstacles in interpersonal interactions. Indeed, the influence of culture differs from person to person, as two individuals from the same country, religion, socioeconomic class, gender and generation don't share the same constellation of behaviors and cultural aptitude.

So, for a bi-national infrastructure project to take place, it's fundamental to understand the culture of those involved on both sides of the border. But more than that, it's fundamental to analyze what type of lens those who reside in the area look through, and to understand each lens as a unique approach to the problems. The former provides us with a common understanding of the problems and of how we should approach a solution to the conflicts. And as for the latter, it's necessary to generate dialogue that contributes to the positive development of a long term relationship for all those involved.

On the Mexico-U.S. border, we have two different ways of approaching the negotiation process. There is the mono-chronic approach, as linear, sequential negotiations that involve a focus on the subject at hand at that time. This focus is common in the cultures of the United States, Germany, Switzerland, Scandinavia and Japan. A poly-chronic approach deals with acknowledging all the events happening simultaneously and the many people involved. The time it takes to complete an objective is elastic and more important than any deadlines. This focus is more common in Mediterranean and Latin cultures like France, Greece, Mexico, etc.

On the International Brownsville-Matamoros Railroad Project, a group of technical workers has held 49 meetings since 2005, in which participants from both sides of the border have continued to make progress. There we see meetings with set beginnings and ends, as is common in mono-chronic cultures. However, there are also participants coming from the poly-chronic side, where meeting times are more flexible. As a result, for the meetings to take place, they begin promptly at the scheduled time and any latecomers are filled in on what they missed by those already there, thereby combining the two customs and avoiding tardiness being seen as a lack of respect. What's more, issues are handled according to a pre-established agenda, in a mono-chronic manner, while friendly conversations take place as well, as is the case in poly-chronic cultures. Finally, the agreements are recorded so that both sides understand the commitments for which they're responsible.

If we don't understand these cultural differences, we may have a lot of difficulty coming to agreements as we negotiate moving forward with infrastructure projects on the Mexico-U.S. border.