In a recent article, we explored why learning Spanish for business is a great investment. Spanish is the third most popular language in the world (after English and Mandarin Chinese), and it is spoken in significant economies in Central and South America. But what about doing business in Spain itself?
In this article, we explore the best ways to conduct yourself – and the embarrassing pitfalls to avoid – when doing business in Spain.
Getting to Know You
The stereotype about Spaniards being demonstrative and tactile extends to the business environment – you can expect firm handshakes with everyone involved in the meeting, and pats on the arm and back – but no kisses, not even air kisses! Be warm and friendly in a business environment, but remain respectful and courteous. Greet people using señor, señora or señorita followed by the person’s surname. Be aware that Spanish surnames are typically made up of the person’s father’s first surname and the mother’s first surname. Use the more formal form of ‘you’ – usted – until invited to use the informal tú.
Dress formally and conservatively when you attend business consultations. Meetings are likely to start with friendly questions for everyone to get to know each other before launching into business matters. Compared to the famously reserved Brits, Spaniards tend to express their emotions more readily, so do not be offended if colleagues gesticulate and speak rather loudly. Several people may speak at once and interrupt – they are just showing how they feel about something, and not trying to intimidate!
Spaniards value hierarchy, so decisions will usually be made by the top brass rather than collectively as a team. When arranging meetings, ensure that all representatives are of equal position and authority. In Spain, there is a noticeable gap between senior managers and more junior colleagues, whereas those lines can be more blurred in other countries. Make sure that you are actually doing business with the person who will be making the decisions!
Going for Lunch
You can expect to do business in the office rather than over a meal, but it is common to be invited out for lunch after discussing work matters. Lunch, usually between 2pm and 4pm, is for relaxing and getting to know each other better. You can consider it as an opportunity to establish trust and build stronger connections with your Spanish colleagues – which can help later business transactions to go more smoothly.
The Spanish are enthusiastic communicators, so few topics are taboo in conversations, and questions about family will be welcomed. As the conversation flows, perhaps you will have the opportunity to sample some of the delicious food Spain is justly famous for – refreshing gazpacho (a chilled tomato soup), delicious paella (a rice and shellfish dish originally from Valencia) and tempting tapas (small, separate dishes of meat, potatoes and seafood).
The famous Spanish siesta, a short break or nap after lunch to avoid the hottest part of the day, is not as common in Spain as it used to be. Office workers tend to keep going, although many shops close for an hour or two after lunch. And Spain has the highest number of public holidays in Europe, with at least 14 days where businesses close completely. Check regional and local calendars carefully before scheduling any meetings in case you turn up to find that everyone is celebrating elsewhere!
Spain is a welcoming country full of opportunity. As the business world reopens to international travel, it may be a good time to dust off your Spanish dictionary and expand your European business network. If you would like to learn Spanish or brush up on your language skills to feel more confident in Spanish language business meetings, contact us today. All our courses are available online.