Traditionally, Spanish businesses were quite hierarchical and in many companies this structure remains today. There are often many levels of management and there is a definite divide between staff members across these levels. Senior decision-makers will rarely engage with more junior colleagues, instead acting on information provided to them and giving instructions to be carried out. If possible, less senior members of the team will try to solve problems without involving their manager so as not to disturb them.
Although the senior management play little part in the day-to-day lives of their subordinates, team managers may take quite a paternalistic attitude to their employees, often offering advice that goes beyond the professional concerns of the workplace. Employees want to respect their managers and believe they are charge because they have the ability and experience to be successful. Conversely, managers will assign employees tasks which suit their skill sets. With every employee having a clearly defined role, independent working is valued so individual responsibility and personal accountability are important.
Because of the separation between ranks, communication with managers tends to be quite formal in nature. However, communication amongst peers or colleagues of the same level of authority tends to be quite relaxed and informal. When meeting Spanish contacts or colleagues, use polite and formal terms to begin with and try to gauge the relationships of the people around you before relaxing your tone.
People in Spain often prefer to work with people they know or have a personal recommendation of, so you will need to spend a long time developing these relationships. Face to face meetings are much more productive than telephone or email communication. Networking plays a huge role in Spanish business dealings so trade associations and professional groups can be an excellent way to build the contacts you need to be successful in Spain.
As with many European countries, dressing the part is important in Spain and you should take care to make a good first impression. Business dress should be stylish yet relatively conservative. Men typically wear smart full-length trousers and a shirt. Suit jackets may also be appropriate, but are not essential, particularly in the heat of summer. Women may wear business suits or dresses, but should dress modestly to create a professional image.
Spaniards usually shake hands and exchange business cards when first meeting business colleagues. Unless you are aware that they hold academic titles and can use them, address your male contacts as ‘Señor’ and female contacts as ‘Señora’, followed by their surname.
The Spanish ‘mañana’ attitude may be exaggerated, but it’s fair to say that Spain has a time-fluid culture. It is not unusual for meetings and appointments to start quite significantly late, so factor this in when planning your schedule. This is no excuse for you to be late though – keep to your appointment times, just expect to be patient when you arrive. It is usually more productive to schedule meetings in the morning before siesta time as people tend to be running more to time then.
Meetings in Spain are usually formal in structure, but expect to make some small talk at the beginning. Spaniards are proud of their culture and sport and will enjoy visitors taking an interest in them. Although oral agreements are important in Spain, making deals is not considered to be the main purpose of meetings. Instead, they are viewed as a platform for discussion and often you will come away with no indication of the outcome. Proposals will be reviewed by all the stakeholders and you might have to go through several meetings before a deal can be reached, with the ultimate decision being made and communicated outside of the meeting room.
Although the rights of female workers are protected by Spanish law, workplaces in the country still retain some historical gender divides. Traditionally, Spanish women did not hold management roles and it is only recently that ladies were encouraged to strive for such positions. Although there are many women in middle management now, boardrooms in Spain can still be quite male-dominated and ‘machismo’ in nature.
Most business language is conducted in Spanish, although some international companies may work in English. Check ahead of your meeting to see if translation or interpretation is required.