How would it be for an American to negotiate with a Spaniard?

In the summermonths we have two American students over as interns. Dana is one of them and wrote this on intercultural negotiation issues:

   Dana Cary, HOLTROP S.L.P. Transaction & Business Law  

Business negotiations are supposed to be clear, concise, and straightforward. They are a way to establish guidelines, create networks, and finish deals in an efficient, timely manner.  Right? Maybe to an American. To a Pole, an international business negotiation may be the perfect opportunity to educate others about their romantic culture and improve their understanding of other cultures; to a Hungarian it may present the opportune time to socialize and gossip about recent news.

The differences amongst international business cultures can lead to serious mishaps if not understood.   From the perspective of an American, a light-hearted wisecrack in the beginning of a business meeting is often used as an attempt to lighten the mood, however to other cultures it may be considered offensive and lead to the termination of an entire business deal.  Therefore, it is important to familiarize yourself with these cultural differences before conducting international business negotiations in order to prevent miscommunication.  And while miscommunication could occur in any type of interaction, two cultures that are especially prone to miscommunication due to their drastic cultural differences are that of Spain and the United States. 

What would it be like for an American to conduct a business negotiation with a Spaniard? As Julie stated in her blog post, Americans are monochromic individuals. We are linear-thinking, fast moving people that prize being on time, setting clear and realistic standards, and getting to the point in almost every interaction we have.   

Spanish culture varies dramatically from this.  The Spanish are multi-active, polychromic people that don’t live agenda-like lifestyles. To a Spaniard, punctuality isn’t crucial—arriving for a 9am business meeting at 9.30 isn’t considered rude or unprofessional, it is often times expected. Contrary to Americans who adamantly sift through information in attempts to discover the bottom line, the Spanish try to be affable and enthusiastic in their communication styles, thinking of ways they can establish bonds with the person they are doing business with.And the best way to influence a Spaniard is not through presenting a list of deadlines and regulations, but rather through personal appeal. Show them honor, respect, a big heart and a sense of humor and you’re on the right path to a successful, harmonious business negotiation.  

If unaware of these cultural differences, conducting a negotiation with a Spanish corporation (or any other foreign company) could be a very frustrating experience for an American. While we tend to rely on our lawyers when outlining the terms of a negotiation and leave no room for on-the-fly improvisation, the Spanish are quick to accept any terms of a negotiation (in attempts to be polite) and then retrospectively decide to change  these terms.    Just being aware of this single difference is an example of turning what could be a very frustrating miscommunication into a respected understanding of culture. This example, out of many, illustrates how crucial it is to understand a foreign company’s culture before engaging in a business negotiation. To learn more about how business cultures vary, check out Richard Lewis’s “When Culture’s Collide: Leading Across Cultures.”