Communication Beyond the Language

Hi everybody!

Living in Madrid definitely has been an experience of a lifetime, and I cannot believe my time here is almost coming to an end. This past weekend a group of friends and I traveled to Porto, Portugal: a beautiful, vibrant town located right on a river (and gave for some pretty amazing views). I expected the culture to be similar to that of Spain due to their proximity, but there were many small differences in their traditions such as their music, dances, artisans, and collectibles. The people of Porto have an extremely laid-back nature to them, and it was extremely easy to enjoy such a gorgeous city. That being said, my time in Europe has allowed me to explore different cultures in-depth, but especially that of the Spaniards.

The communication style of Spain differs from that of the United States, and way past just the language. For starters, the Spanish like to talk over each other, and do not leave any room for silence within conversations. In the United States, we typically wait for people to finish their thought and a moment of silence to begin talking. Yet, here, if someone wants to join the conversation, they are expected to just begin talking regardless of who is already speaking. Back at home, this would be looked at as interrupting, and considered rude – but in Spain, it is extremely normal and actually preferred.

When it comes to low and high context, I believe Madrid falls within the high context category on the communication scale. Although I am fluent in the language, I still often find myself with feelings of confusion that stem from the topics and context of conversations. The people of Spain are a much more homogenous society than the United States and therefore, have many customs and interests that resonate with the majority of the population. Their culture is very strong and prominent within their society and goes across many subjects such as music, shows, arts, sports, foods, and religion. The United States is made up of people from extremely different backgrounds, and I would not say that the majority of the population shares beliefs across all the topics listed above. At the moment, I am the only non-Spaniard in the workplace, and sometimes I feel as though there are some huge inside jokes I am missing out on when it is actually just interests that everybody here shares and follows. I would argue that in the United States, unless you are with an organization of your certain hobby or people from the same geographical area as you, it is somewhat rare to assume someone will just relate to you. This is something I found extremely neat about the Spaniards and why I feel they all get along better as a society.

Another category of high context situations that have confused me is when talking to my host mom. In the Midwest, we are known for saying “No, yeah” when we mean yes and “Yeah, no” when we mean no, which can be a bit confusing to outsiders. Yet, when my host mom says “No, no, no, no,” apparently this can also mean yes. The first couple of times she used this phrase, I was very confused. But, after she explained to me that “No, no, no, no” is used for both yes and no in moments of exclamation – I still had questions – but, now understand her.

I fortunately have not dealt with many miscommunication issues throughout my internship, but this is also because when I do not understand, I continue to ask questions until I do (and I find myself doing this a lot). At times, there can be a lack of clarity within instructions or feedback, which I think is due to the relaxed nature of the Spanish workplace. In the United States, work is taken very seriously and so, bosses typically try to avoid any type of ambiguity and often have strong feelings tied to the success/failure of your work. Therefore, if something goes wrong/right, your boss will share this feedback with you with great emotion. But since work in Spain is looked at just that – work – their feelings about the success/failure in the workplace do not hold as much weight in their life and do not typically take over their emotions. So sometimes when I turn in my work to my boss and her reaction is a bit indifferent, I am not quite sure if I did a good job, but this is just the business communication culture and something I have learned to get used to.

Overall, communication styles differ from country to country, but with time, teach you about the culture of the country itself and why they choose to communicate that way.

Hasta luego,