A first business meeting is a relatively non-binding matter in Spain. This is due to the fact that with their first contact, Spaniards are primarily concerned with getting to know each other. People want to make a good impression, but they also want to make sure that their interlocutor is at ease. To achieve this, you should have some friendly conversations, establish a good relationship on a personal level, and build trust step by step. You should take your time to establish a business relationship.
For Spaniards, the external appearance is the reflection of a person. So if you want to make a good impression, your clothes will play a big role. Especially in the Spanish big cities, people tend to dress according to the latest fashion trends and attach great importance to a high-quality clothing style, featuring status-symbol accessories. Of course, in Spain as elsewhere, the business dress code also varies according to the industry and the corporate culture. While, for example, the suit can sometimes be worn without a tie in a sales environment, this is almost unthinkable in a bank.
It’s best to be on the safe side and choose a classic, conservative style for a first business appointment. Women can choose between a trouser suit or a business suit. Shoes with heels are still the norm and discreet makeup is also part of the business outfit. Men should also pay attention to tasteful combinations, for example, the closed leather shoes should match the colour of the belt.
As a greeting, in Spain people shake hands, looking into each other’s eyes and smile kindly. If you have known each other for a little while, cheek kisses on the left and right are common between women and between a man and a woman. Between men, you stop at the handshake, maybe reinforced with an additional shoulder pat or hug. The usual welcome phrase is: “Hola, que tal?“, which can be translated as “Hello, how’s things?”
The usual salutation in Spanish business life is Señor or Señora followed by their last name, for example: Señor Sánchez or Señora Martínez. Officially, every Spaniard has two surnames, one is given by the father and one is passed on by the mother. The first last name is the more important one and is therefore used in the salutation. In written invitations or in a very formal setting, the respectful address Don or Doña is also used, but verbally only in connection with the first name or the entire name.
In daily business life, however, you will quickly be addressed with your first name. At first, this is to be understood as a sign of integration rather than a close friendship. Spaniards, by using the tú informal address and first names, reduce the distance with their interlocutors and business partners. So be open, and meet the Spaniards as warmly as they do!
In particular, if you and your Spanish business partner or colleague are about the same age and are on the same hierarchy level, the tú is also rather common in business life. The same applies to the circle of colleagues: if you see each other on a daily or regular basis, the tú becomes the unifying element. In Spain, by the way, nicknames are often used in a work context. So don’t be surprised if your colleague Pilar Álvarez is simply called ‘Pili’. If you are unsure, simply inquire about who they mean by this. On the other hand, Spaniards treat their bosses very respectfully and use the formal form of salutation.
Business cards play an important role in Spanish business. Your business cards ideally should be written in Spanish or in Spanish and English. You can have them printed both on the front and back.
Spaniards, by the way, are more interested in your position and function within your company than in your academic title. This is due to the fact that in Spanish companies, you often only receive business cards at a certain hierarchical level, for example only as department heads.
However, you should also pay particular attention to the position in the company mentioned, when your Spanish business partners use their business cards. From this, you may be able to understand what the decision-making power of your counterpart is. Because of the hierarchical structures in many Spanish companies, it may happen that you negotiate for a long time with someone who is basically unable to make decisions, while the actual decision-maker may be rather reluctant. By looking at the business card, you know more quickly what kind of expectations you can have from the meeting.
How to Handle Meetings
As in many countries around the world, the relationship aspect plays a very important role in business in Spain. There are a lot of smiles and a lot of emphasis is placed on a friendly approach.
Small talk at the beginning of each meeting serves to identify common aspects and build a personal relationship. Good small talk topics are family and football! You can easily ask whether your Spanish business partners are married and have children, as the family is very important to Spaniards. Just like football, or sport in general. If you don’t like these topics, just inquire about the sights of the city or tell them about your homeland. However, you should avoid pub-like humour, and don’t be tempted to make jokes about religion, politics, money or sex – that would not go down well!
Praise and recognition are other important elements that help maintain a pleasant climate for discussion. If you need to address some critical aspects, make sure that you start with many positive comments. Express the criticism very indirectly and by no means in front of many other people! Just keep in mind that in Spain, maintaining the relationship is paramount.
Often, a first meeting or other follow-up appointments are followed by a business lunch, which may work as a final meeting, in which all the topics discussed are summarized again. However, beware: Still don’t expect final results. It may well be that, at the end of the meal, a verbal agreement is reached or even a contract is due to be signed. Despite this, however, often everything will remain uncertain.
So don’t be disappointed if the first meeting, followed by a dinner in Spain, is different compared to what you might have hoped. Nevertheless, consider the time spent together as a success, as it meets a fundamental requirement of relationship maintenance for Spaniards.
Once you’re back at your desk at home, you should get the phone and call your Spanish contacts again. Thank them for the good time, for the conversations and for the invitation to have food together. This way, you can just remind them of yourself, but this must be done by phone, not by e-mail. A short while later, you should continue to work on the much-discussed relationship with your Spanish partners, paving the way for a successful deal.