Management – Business culture in Spain


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Business culture in Spain

Business culture in Spain

Conducting business in Spain is not just about having long lunches and patience. Expertise in Labour Mobility offers information on Spanish management culture, hierarchy, negotiations, and business etiquette in Spain.

Hierarchy in Spain
In Spain, most companies are still hierarchically structured, although the old mindset is changing at high speed. For instance family-owned businesses as well as most government undertakings are run in a traditional Spanish way, i.e. with strictly separated divisions and a strong hierarchical system.
However, the strong hierarchical and bureaucratic organisational culture is changing due to a growing number of young managers educated abroad and changes in Spanish society itself. Throughout the Spanish economy, individualism is predominant in management, whereas teamwork is not so much appreciated.
In Spanish organisations, planning does not seem to be that important, mainly “because no one can predict the future.” The strategy of an organisation is the sole responsibility of the managing director or the owner of the company, who trusts more on intuition than on systematic research.
Business meetings in Spain
Meetings are merely held to give instructions to and exchange ideas with subordinates; making decisions or reaching consensus is not the key activity.
Spaniards are very social people. It is not uncommon to discuss matters that are rather personal, even during a first meeting with someone.
You may criticise certain Spanish customs, but do not under any circumstances say anything that might be offending their personal dignity or honour. The first meeting is generally formal and is used to get to know each other. Non-verbal communication may tell you which things are not being said out loud.
Spanish business negotiations
Catalans prefer a professional negotiation style, in which bargains are not the main aim. In the South a more traditional, formal style of negotiation is appreciated, in which bargaining is cherished.
In general, Spaniards consider it rude to answer a request negatively. Generally, negotiations are a process that requires time. Getting acquainted with your business partner is of great importance in order to be successful.
Despite the changes in Spanish society, decisions are still taken at senior management level, often by the senior executive alone. Likewise, a modest employee is more appreciated than an assertive employee.
Many things are currently changing within Spain, but people still prefer some clarity on who makes the decisions and who is the boss. If a subordinate has a problem, he or she will expect his or her boss to take care of it.
Time perception in Spain
To understand the Spanish conception of time, one needs to know that for the Spaniards ‘time was created by god to meet people’. Often jokes are made about the ‘mañana’ feeling in Spain. In fact, people do make long days from 8.30/9.00 to 19.30/20.00, with a long lunch break of two hours starting at approximately 13.30.
Business culture in Spain
Appointments in Spain
Appointments are mandatory and should be made in advance due to busy schedules. Do not try to arrange a meeting between 12.00 and 16.00, people will be out for lunch.
Spanish people do appreciate others to be on time. However, some patience is still required.
Spanish business greetings
Greeting is an extensive ritual. Hands are shaken with everybody present. Kissing each other on both cheeks is only done between people who know each other.
Note that it is not uncommon to be interrupted while speaking. Most of the time this simply means that the person is honestly interested in what you are saying and is getting into a dialogue.
It is important that you allow sufficient time in order to let your business colleagues get to know you. If your Spanish partner is not wishing to press business, be patient and wait till the second meeting comes up.
Spanish dress code
The way you present yourself is of critical importance when dealing with Spanish business people. Spaniards usually spend quite some time and money on their outfit and appearance. Business dress is classic, professional and conventional. Suits usually come in dark colours, although lighter colours are not necessarily avoided. Women wear suits too, either with skirt or trousers. There can be an emphasis on accessories and make up, yet it should never be flashy.
Wining and dining
Lunch and dinner are important when doing business in Spain. They are used to getting to know people better. Spaniards rarely invite (business) friends to their home; instead they prefer to meet in a restaurant or café.
Long lunch breaks and dinners are common. Even in a business context, people generally will not start discussing business before coffee has been served. First you enjoy the food and the company and talk about anything but serious matters!
Use of business cards
Business cards are typically exchanged at the beginning of a meeting. They contain first name and surname, job title, but no academic titles. When presenting your card, having one side of your card translated into Spanish, generally leaves an amazingly positive impression.
Expertise in Labour Mobility / Expatica
This information is based on the Looking for work in Spain guide (ISBN 978-90-5896-055-9), written by Expertise in Labour Mobility. This one-pager is one step to making your international career aspirations become reality. The full Looking for work in Spain guide tells you everything you need to know. If you want to order or find out more about our services, have a look at
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