Business communication

Spain-flag-140Good, effective communication is always an important element of a successful business encounter. The following section will focus on those aspects of communication that are essential, mainly during the initial phases of an encounter. In particular, the following section will focus on leaving a positive first impression.

After reading this section you will have an understanding of the type of verbal and non-verbal communication that is expected in Spain. Also, you will have an appreciation of typical Spanish working life and the style of conducting business that you should expect from your Spanish counterparts. The final sections will then outline essential recommended guidelines that should be adhered to when eating out with your business associates in Spain.

Face-to-face communication

In business relationships, communication is usually formal and follows strict rules of protocol that should be adhered to at all times. You should avoid confrontation as much as possible, because Spaniards do not like to admit that they are wrong, especially in public. They are very much concerned about how they are perceived by others and try to avoid looking foolish, at all times. Similarly it is advisable to stay modest when describing your achievements and accomplishments.

Even during a first encounter, the Spanish tend to be extremely outgoing and very friendly. Spaniards can also be very proud and individualistic and, as a Mediterranean culture, they use their extrovert nature to get to know others and learn about other cultures.

The qualities appreciated by Spaniards are, above all, those of character and modesty. There is no emphasis on professional experience or business success, as in other Western European countries. It is essential to be patient, to listen and pay attention and certainly to display some personal pride and honour, in order to prove yourself and gain the respect of your associates. Another valued characteristic is the ability to be amusing and entertaining, as humour plays an important role, even in business encounters. You should guard against any kind of sarcasm that might offend your Spanish counterparts or undermine their respect and trust; although, it is difficult to cause real offence without being directly insulting. You should avoid making disrespectful remarks about Spanish traditions or practices and, under no circumstances, should you comment on national or regional stereotypes that Spaniards may find insulting.

Welcome topics of conversation include discussion about your home country, places you have visited (particularly in Spain), Spanish art and architecture, Spanish traditions such as dance or wines and family. Sport is also a safe topic and football is very popular in Spain.

Language matters

Generally, all members of the younger generation speak at least some English. This is in sharp contrast to the older generation, where the chances of encountering someone with a decent level of English are negligible. In the business environment, it is reasonable to expect that Spanish executives will speak English and will not require an interpreter. Generally, most international business negotiations are conducted in English, however there are exceptions. So, it is advisable to check the foreign language competencies of your business counterparts before your arrival in the country, in order to ensure that the appropriate translation facilities are available. In general, when speaking with someone in their non-native language, it is important to take care to speak slowly, clearly and without the use of slang or excess technical vocabulary.

Apart from English, you may find that your business contacts will speak other languages; French and German are the most common. You may also decide to conduct the negotiation in Spanish, which might be particularly useful in cases where a long-term relationship is anticipated, as speaking the native language of your Spanish associates may help you to integrate better into their culture.

Generally, Spaniards like to interact with people from abroad and they often believe in the superiority of products and services coming from abroad. You can expect your Spanish counterpart to be curious about the products or services you offer and ask additional questions.

You should allow plenty of additional time for business meetings; especially where you are making a presentation.. Spanish people like to take their time and hate to be rushed when making an important decision.

You can expect your Spanish business associate to be keen on setting up a meeting with you. Also, keep in mind that the more you get to know your associate beforehand, the greater are the chances of a successful outcome, since the relationship is such an important element.

Business relationship

Trust and personal relationships are the keys to the success of doing business in Spain. Spanish people rarely conduct business with someone they feel that they cannot trust or someone with whom they do not have any personal relationship. The essential nature of trust within business relationships in Spain means that it is critical to get to know your counterparts well, in order to build that trust. Thus, you should allow sufficient time in your travel arrangements for long meetings and socialising, to allow time to get to know each other. Particularly in the initial phase of a business relationship, it is advisable to focus on strengthening personal bonds. It is only when these have been successfully established that you should proceed to discuss business matters and close deals.

The advantage and disadvantage of the ‘Spanish approach’ is that personal connections outweigh business contacts, such that loyalties and relationships are devoted to the individuals rather than the companies they represent. So, you will keep the personal relationships you develop throughout your career and businesses have to re-invest time and resources in developing relationships whenever their representatives change.

Due to the value of trust within business relationships, Spanish executives usually do not insist on written confirmation of a deal. However, this does not apply to major contracts, where legal and financial terms have to be explicit. If the norm for your company is to confirm details in writing and establish formal agreements, then it is expected that you will follow these norms with your Spanish counterparts.

Making contact

Spanish people always prefer face-to-face contact to written or telephone communications, as they believe it is easier to build a personal relationship that way. In general, physical contact is more common in Spain than in other Western European countries. People use a more animated style of body language and expressive gestures. They also stand closer when in conversation and maintain more direct eye contact when they speak.

First contact is critical in developing a relationship in Spain and your appearance has a tremendous impact on first impressions. Similarly, Spanish counterparts will also do their best to present themselves well and make a good impression.

It is customary to shake hands at every business encounter, particularly when introduced to someone new. In Spain, many men use a two-handed shake where the left hand is placed on the right forearm of the other person. The handshake should not be too firm. After a good relationship has been established, men may embrace and pat each other on the shoulder. Women may kiss each other on both cheeks, starting with the left.

Personal titles

The basic rule concerning the use of names and titles in Spain is that first names are used only when addressing someone from your family circle, friends and children. Similarly, in the Spanish language there are two ways of saying ’you‘: ‘usted’ is the formal style of address, used for addressing older or more senior people with respect; whereas ‘tu’ is more informal and used mainly amongst family members and friends. However, in today’s language there is a tendency to use first names and tú from the outset in business relations, where associates are of equal status or seniority. This is the case, particularly in the South, where people tend to have more informal relationships that develop quickly.

In the business environment, it is advisable to use the courtesy titles: ‘señor’ for a man, ‘señora’ for a married woman and ‘señorita’ for an unmarried woman together with the person’s surname.

In certain cases, you may be expected to use their professional titles when addressing a person, such as professor or doctor together with their surname. However, professional and academic titles are not normally used when addressing Spanish executives.

The tradition of addressing someone by the title ‘don’ (for a man) or ‘doña’ (for a woman) with their first name was historically used as a form of respect to an older or senior person. Today, this is uncommon in Spain and using this form of address may appear sarcastic or mocking in today’s language.

Spanish people usually have surnames consisting of their father’s first surname and their mother’s maiden name. You will be expected to use both unless your associates let you know clearly that they only use the one name, and the same rule applies to compound first names, for instance José-María.

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