In Spanish companies, meetings are primarily used to exchange information. However, the relationship level always plays an important part. Indeed, Spaniards also use meetings as an opportunity to keep in contact with business partners and colleagues.
As regards the timeliness of the start of a meeting, you may notice regional differences in Spain. While in Catalonia and in the Basque Country people normally start on time, in other parts of the country you often have to wait until all participants are there.
In general, however, in Spain people prefer to give an indication as a period of time, instead of a specific time: For example, a meeting may start between 9 am and 9.30 am. This takes into account all the ever-so-important relationship-related aspects. For example, if an employee is on the phone, they wouldn’t end the conversation early just because they have a meeting scheduled. They would give priority to the interlocutor and arrive later at the meeting. Having periods allows the necessary flexibility. However, waiting time is never wasted in Spain: you can take the chance to warmly welcome the other participants and engage in small talk which is going to strengthen the relationship!
Not only should you consider the Spanish business culture when it comes to the start time of a meeting, but also when it comes to taking breaks: the right timing is very important. Work normally starts at 9 am, and Spaniards usually go to a bar or cafeteria together at 11 am to have a coffee and a bite to eat. You should definitely take the chance to have a bite to eat because the lunch break does not take place until between 2 pm and 4 pm! Accordingly, at night people also eat late in Spain, at around 9 or 10 pm.
In small and medium-sized enterprises in the South of the country, the so-called ‘siesta’ is common. Between 2 pm and 5 pm, when it’s hottest outside, there’s a long break where many employees go home, have lunch, do some shopping or take care of other tasks. This does not mean at all that during this time people only sleep! In any case, especially in Spain’s major cities, many companies have abolished this long lunch break.
Very often meetings in Spain are not prepared in detail. Flexibility and creativity are qualities that are cherished. Normally, as well, there is no agenda for the meeting supplied with the invitation. If there is an agenda, it is more likely to be a rough indication of the meeting’s content. Accordingly, the meeting does not strictly conform to the individual points, but it will include current, spontaneously arising topics, while other topics may be omitted.
Although Spanish companies are becoming more and more international and hierarchies are becoming more levelled, most companies are still small to medium-sized, mostly patriarchal, family businesses. There is a strict authoritarian top-down culture and the decision-making power, therefore, lies primarily with the business owner himself or a small circle of executives.
However, if the decision-maker is present at a meeting, he may not necessarily automatically assume the role of leader or moderator at the meeting. They often leave this role to their employees and they just listen. However, perhaps at the end of the meeting, he may well summarise all the results. In any case, he is the one who will make the final decision, often later outside the conference room. The meeting itself is not held for decision-making.
Nevertheless, there is usually a lot of loud and emotional talk during Spanish meetings. Spaniards are always very involved and sometimes discuss matters rather heatedly. They are very expressive, and visibly, with their gestures. Also, be prepared for people to speak over each other or at the same time as one another. There will hardly be any breaks during discussions. Be aware though, that what may seem rather disorderly to foreign business partners who are not used to such a lively, active conversation style, should not be interpreted as a sign of lack of professionalism.
Also during meetings, Spaniards will always keep an eye on the relationship level. Despite heated discussions, communication is always careful of the relationship. Critical points will be ‘packaged’ between many positive aspects or just hinted at. Therefore, be sure to avoid direct criticism or especially accusations in front of many people. Also, it is better to talk in terms of “we” and “us” if you want to make recommendations or suggest improvements. Praise and recognition, on the other hand, are means of communication that are essential for taking care of the relationship aspect during meetings.
You should plan a lot of time for a meeting in Spain. It may well be that you will go out for dinner together afterwards and further discuss topics.