Throughout my time abroad I have been traveling on the weekends to different cities and countries throughout Europe. I had some time to myself over this last week to really reflect on what I have experienced and learned while traveling. I realized how incredible it is to have the opportunity to discover new cultures throughout Spain and other countries in Europe. Every experience opens my mind to new possibilities and changes my view of the world. Spending time in other countries allowed for me to view the United States in a different manner as well. It is interesting to look from the outside to better understand what differences exist between countries in politics, opinions, priorities, and business.
Business is conducted differently dependent on each country’s values and customs. It is important to understand different cultures since business truly is global. Most people during their career in business will encounter a situation where they will do business cross-culturally. Therefore, understanding cultural differences in important to be successful no matter what industry you are working in. I learned in many classes, including consumer behavior and business communications, that countries differ on what they value. The Hofstede model is a good example of how cultures differ on individualism, power distance, and some other aspects. Before my arrival to the program, I compared the scores between Spain and the United States to see how the two cultures differ in values. After spending some time working in Spain, I have found that many of these comparisons have proven to be true.
The greatest difference that I have experiences is around relationship building in the workplace. In the United States, business is very task oriented. When people sit down to a meeting or a business lunch, there may be small talk, but the primary purpose of the meeting is to conduct business, so that is what is primarily discussed. However, in Spain they are highly focused on relationship building in business. Instead of discussing the business that needs to be conducted, the entire duration of a meeting or meal could be discussing family, interests, or upcoming travel plans. People really focus on relationship building before any business can be discussed. This is important to note because when doing business with someone from Spain, it is important to forget the purpose of the meeting for a while and focus on strengthening the relationship between clients. It may be difficult considering our culture is so different in this aspect, but after spending some time within this culture I think I have learned a lot about relationship building.
Another big difference between work culture in the United States and in Spain lies within communication. In the United States, we use a liner communication structure. When we speak, we often get directly to the point and are very explicit. Business in Spain is very different because they use a very circular communication structure. They often talk around the main point of the conversation and sometimes never even say the purpose of what they are discussing. Most conversations are never to the point and everything is implicit. What lies between the words, and what is goes unsaid is often the most important part of a conversation. This is difficult for me because I am used to knowing exactly what is expected of me, and if I do something incorrectly or that my supervisor doesn’t like they will tell me. Here, it is much harder to interpret the feelings of my supervisor towards my actions, and more difficult to know whether I am reaching the standards that she expects of me. The performance evaluation helped a lot with this because I was able to understand that I am in fact exceeding her expectations in most categories. That was a nice way for us to sit down and better understand each other.
The United States is very focused on the individual in the workplace, and how a single person can be the best version of themselves. Even when working within a group, a person is still primarily focused on how they can best succeed. Spain is more focused on collectivism; however, the gap is not that large. Spain does focus on the whole rather than induvial parts, but the success of individual people is equally as important. Another small difference I experienced is with scheduling. The United States work culture focuses strongly on the idea that if you are not early, you are late. In Spain, schedules are more relaxed. In fact, they do not want you to show up early. Our program leaders told us to arrive on time for work. If they tell you to arrive at 9:00am, they mean to arrive at 9:00am. On my first day, I arrived exactly on time to make a good impression, but every day since I have arrived early because I despise being late to anything. When my supervisor and I were completing my performance review, she noted multiple times and emphasized how punctual I am. In comparison to others, I am about the only one who arrives early or even on time. This difference in scheduling is important to not when setting up a first business meeting with someone from Spain. You do not want to seem rude for showing up to early or assume that the person you are meeting finds you unimportant because they arrived late.