World Culture Tips: Spain


La adulación hace amigos y la verdad hace enemigos. Flattery makes friends and truth makes enemies.


When communicating with Spaniards face-to-face or by telephone and e-mail, it is important to show a great deal of sensitivity to the other person's feelings. Tact, diplomacy, cordiality, and warm graciousness are basic elements of social and business interactions in Spain. In fact by U.S. standards, the distinction between social and business communications is often blurred. The priority is not merely "face-saving," but positive "face-building" that results in good personal relationships. Therefore, criticism or negative feedback, however true or justified, should be avoided until a strong bond of mutual trust and confidence has been formed.


Spain is a country where building and maintaining good relationships, especially in initial business interactions, is a higher priority than conducting transactions or completing tasks. Culturally, Spaniards tend to view a relationship as a vital means to accomplish a task involving another person. Therefore, great care is taken to avoid offending or hurting another person's feelings. The tone and content of communications reflect this practical consideration. The quality of the relationship and the degree of warmth in the communications are strong indicators of the likelihood of a successful business transaction or team effort.

So What

In a culture that values being direct and frank, U.S. business people often underestimate the need for using diplomacy and charm when dealing with their Spanish counterparts. Unfortunately, we may come across as being arrogant, indifferent, or aggressive. Those who show sensitivity and sincere personal warmth (this is called being simp�tico) have a big advantage in Spain.

To Learn More

Read Helen Wattley-Ames, Spain is Different (Boston: Intercultural Press, 1992), and Marie Louise Graff, Culture Shock: Spain (Graphic Arts Publishing Co., Portland, Ore., 1993).

Gary Wederspahn is a leading intercultural speaker, and writer. His book, Intercultural Services: A Worldwide Buyer's Guide and Sourcebook, is available from Butterworth Heinemann company and from

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