By Rob Giardina
While it is difficult to generalize about the population of any country, this may be more the case with Spaniards. Spain has experienced dramatic change in the last 40 years, both in business culture and the society in general. Individuals, as well as companies, are at different points along that transformation curve. Large differences can be found between multinationals and small and mid-size companies—especially family businesses. In addition, Spain has one of the highest percentages of immigrant population in Europe, calling somewhat into question what a “typical” Spaniard is.
Nevertheless, we can say in general terms that Spanish culture is relationship oriented and somewhat hierarchical, and the people are flexible, as well as multi-focused in that they tend to divert their attention among various issues and obligations. Spaniards generally will do their best to make the training experience warm, fun, and meaningful for everyone.
What Is Expected of the Trainer
Participants appreciate dynamic sessions, humor, and the occasional game. However, they generally want that rounded out with theory and more traditional teaching practices. They expect a certain air of seriousness and even a little formality from trainers. It should always be clear who the expert in the room is. Dressing well and one’s image in general are important. Academic titles lend credibility, so stress them when possible, perhaps by having someone formally introduce you.
Spaniards are generally flexible, but they want a strong leader to provide at least an initial plan and structure, and they expect to be “reined in” when necessary. They like clear instructions, even though they may not follow them to the letter.
What the Trainer Can Expect
Harmony within the group of participants is important, especially if they work together, so participants may try to avoid any possible conflicts. They also may avoid disagreeing with those higher in rank and may look to the highest-ranking managers to answer first.
Compared to Northern Europeans, Spaniards are relatively multi-focused, so interruptions, last-minute changes, coming and going, lateness, and ringing mobile phones are somewhat commonplace. There are often side conversations, but this generally shows interest more than distraction or boredom. A “well-behaved” group might be an uninterested group.
Trainers and their knowledge and opinions are respected, possibly to the point that Spaniards may hesitate to correct or disagree with them, or express dissatisfaction directly. Their informal verbal feedback may differ from anonymous written evaluations.
English language levels are generally low in Spain. One effect of this is that some participants may be a little embarrassed to speak in front of the group, or may not want to venture an opinion if they don’t think they have understood everything that has come before. Nevertheless, they generally like full-group discussion, especially in their own language, if it is well moderated and everyone gets a chance to speak.
Keep in mind that participants often don’t do pre- and post-session work that is assigned. And jokes and comments that may be considered politically incorrect or even discriminatory in other cultures are not unusual.
Spaniards are often loath to take risks in public, so be careful that an activity doesn’t leave someone feeling shown up or embarrassed. Set the stage for a dynamic session by having learners participate actively with something easy and impersonal early on, and then through the session work up to things that are more difficult or personal. Negative comments are sometimes personalized, so be careful even with constructive criticism, especially in front of others.
There are clear regional differences within Spain. Although they don’t make for a different training experience, a trainer would be wise to at least understand identity issues and, when appropriate, acknowledge them.
Creating a pleasant and relaxed atmosphere is key. When training in Spain, success will come through building trust and focusing on the relationship.
Rob Giardina is a senior associate with Global Dynamics Inc., a training and development firm specializing in globalization, cultural intelligence, effective virtual workplaces, and diversity and inclusion. For more information, visit www.global-dynamics.com. Anna Zelno, president of SIETAR Spain, also contributed to this article.