Understanding Spanish Business Culture and Etiquette

If you’re ready to live and work in Spain then now is the perfect time to delve into the world of Spanish business culture and etiquette.

Conducting business in Spain is very different from conducting business in other countries, from the pace with which decisions are made to the length of the long business lunches! If you want to fit in with your colleagues and we successful in business in Spain then this guide to Spanish business culture and etiquette will tell you everything you need to know:

The Way Spanish Businesses Are Structured

Many businesses in Spain maintain a hierarchical company structure, with each division separated and a strong focus on bureaucracy. This is considered to be the traditional Spanish way, particularly in family-owned businesses where the head of the family generally sit at the head of the business, and the hierarchical structure is fixed in a similar way to the family structure.

This is not a system that is set in stone though: as many young managers and entrepreneurs are travelling abroad to complete their education, they are bringing new and more innovative business ideas and structures back with them.  Teamwork is not as well-appreciated in Spain as it is in other countries though, with the skills of the individual instead taking precedence.

As a general rule, it’s good to be aware of your rank and stick to it: you can negotiate with your counterpart at another business, for example, but if you need to speak to their manager then you shouldn’t do this directly. You should instead have your manager conduct this negotiation on your behalf, so that the communication is undertaken on an equal footing.

Less Focus on Strategy

Strategic planning is key for many businesses, particularly in the UK and the USA. However, strategy and planning are considered less important in Spanish organisations, which means that you’ll often find individuals within the organisation who aren’t clear what the business strategy is. Instead, focusing on the strategic direction of the business is considered to be the responsibility of the business owner or its managing director. They will make decisions based on their own experience or intuition, and these decisions will be filtered down to other staff members as and when is needed.

The Role of Women in Business in Spain

Attitudes to women in business in Spain fall slightly behind those you might experience in other Northern European countries. Women frequently report a work culture that considers it normal for male employees to compliment female employees, or comment on their appearance in a work environment.

In much the same way as in most other European countries, there are also fewer women than men occupying managerial roles in Spain. Only 37% of managerial positions in Spain are held by women: the country is working hard to increase this figure, and attitudes to women in the workplace are slowly evolving.

Spanish Business Meetings are Very Different

Forget visions of men in suits sitting calmly around a table in a boardroom: business meetings in Spain are much more casual than you might find in other Western countries, and this can be surprising for those that aren’t used to it. As a general rule, business meetings in Spain don’t involve consensual discussion, and instead provide an opportunity for instructions and decisions to be communicated. What will surprise you is just how noisy these meetings can be, with different members of the group shouting at each other, speaking over each other, and interrupting. The key, in these meetings, is to focus on business matters rather than make things personal: you should never talk about a coworkers honour or personal life unless you aim is to offend.

Always take your business cards with you when attending a meeting, as these are typically exchanged before the meeting begins; ensure your card contains your full name and job title. Have at least one side of your card written in Spanish, to ensure it has universal reach.

Understanding Business Negotiations in Spain

Whilst internal business meetings are fast and furious, business negotiations take a much more slow and steady approach. It is important to have patience when conducting business negotiations in Spain: before you even begin the negotiation process you need to build a trusted personal relationship with your counterpart. The strength of these relationships will determine the success of your negotiation, so take the time for business lunches, social meetings, and other interactions before you get down to the nitty gritty.

Whilst this applies to much of Spain, there are exceptions. In Catalonia, for example, a more professional and formal negotiation style is preferred. Bargaining in a formal environment, by comparison, is also favoured in the South of Spain too.

Making Key Business Decisions

When the negotiations process is completed, the final business decisions will almost always be made by senior managers, and junior members of the team will have to consult with their manager to ensure the decision is approved at a senior level.

In other countries, showing initiative as a junior team member is a sign that you’re keen and eager to learn. In Spain, however, this might be viewed with suspicion: in many companies you will still be expected to respect your senior staff members, and not usurp their position in the decision making process.

Time Keeping is a Concept, Not a Rule!

If you’ve ever enjoyed lunch with a Spanish family, you’ll know that the perception of time in the country is often a vague concept rather than something that is set in stone. This spills over into the business world, where meetings often start and finish late, business meals can last for hours, and the working day doesn’t start at a strict time (nor does it finish at a set time either). Whilst the Spanish siesta might sound like a great idea, they don’t really exist in the business environment, but you will be expected to enjoy a long lunch, which can last for as many as two hours or more. A good rule of thumb is to stick to conventional office hours to start with, and then adapt these to match the culture of your individual company.

How to Dress for Business in Spain

Worrying about what to wear? You should be! Presenting yourself in the right way is crucial when conducting business in Spain. Classic and professional business dress is considered standard, with suits the norm for both men and women. Spaniards usually spend a fair amount of time and money on their outfit and appearance, so take the time to curate your business wardrobe carefully.

Be Prepared for Spanish Affection

The typical Spanish affection that you see across the country is replicated in the business environment. Spaniards shake hands firmly, and kiss those business colleagues they know well on both cheeks. The Spanish are generally a very tactile people, often standing close, maintaining eye contact, and touch one another on the arm and back.

People are usually addressed by their surname prefixed with senor, senora or senorita. You should wait for your Spanish host to initiate the use of first names, rather than start this themselves. It is not unusual for Spanish business colleagues to socialise with each other, and spend time enjoying lunch and dinner in a local café of restaurant. This is how most Spaniards choose to spend their long lunch break period.

Take Your Holidays

Holiday allocations in Spain are generous, with workers receiving 30 days of paid annual leave on top of their 12 paid public holidays. It is important that you take all of the holiday you are allocated as, unlike in other countries, you cannot sell this leave back to your employer or roll it over to the following year. Make the most of the break, and get out to enjoy Spain!

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