Which Countries Are The Most Relaxed About Personal Space In Business?

By Antonia Čirjak on February 2 2020 in Society

Business people hugging
Business people hugging

In the US, colleagues would sometimes use a very brief touch if they are familiar and friendly to express their connection (such as a pat on the back). But in general, people give each other quite a lot of personal space - both physical and in terms of expected disclosure. 

Some cultures, however, have a different stance.

We do not mean rude or invasive: in some cultures, physical distance and a cold shoulder may signify distrust or disrespect. They place the most value of creating a warm personal bond with business partners. 

In Italy, Connection Comes First

Italians do not appreciate “business is one thing - the relationship is another,” all-sales and politics approach. So do not expect to get down to business right away in Italy. Business here is conducted with people who managed to build personal trust and connection first. Expect to invest your time into developing that relationship and getting to know your Italian partners. The communication is often friendly and personal, and you are expected to talk about subjects like your interests or family, even if you usually do not do that at home. In Italian business culture, gift-giving is not particularly common, but an invitation to a dinner or an event will be appreciated. 

Do not take small delays or being later as a sign of disrespect.
Do not take small delays or being later as a sign of disrespect.

Punctuality and speed in business are not the most important here, so be patient when working with new Italian partners: they will compensate by eagerness and passion. Do not take small delays or being later as a sign of disrespect. If you have a strict and rigid deadline, make sure to communicate it and make it extremely clear to you Italian partners. 

Individualist Spain

In Spain, social life and interpersonal connection are similarly important: to trust you as a business partner, they want to trust you as a person. Individualism, strong opinions and personal dignity are highly appreciated; personal appearance, image, and “breeding” are crucial, but flaunting superiority is considered a “buff.” So you want to find the right blend of modesty and self-respect. Tip everyone and for everything in this country and show generosity.

In business, shake hands with everyone present (men, women, and children) at a business or social meeting and shake hands again when leaving. Spanish people would stand very close when talking and use gestures a lot (do not try to imitate it). But any other kind of touch (hug, slap on the back, etc.) is reserved for family and friends, so wait for the Spanish partner to do it first. Expect to be interrupted a lot. 

Spain is not a business meeting-to-discuss culture: meetings are to give instructions and are only used to save time. But lunches and dinners are an essential part of doing business: they are used to create chemistry and trust.

When in SPain on a meeting, shake hands with everyone present
When in Spain at a meeting, shake hands with everyone present.

Similar to Italy, deadlines are considered a guideline rather than a must-do date, so it is not generally frowned upon if it is missed. Do not be insulted by this; just build the potential delays into the timeline when you are planning your project internally. 

Brazilians Are Seen As Very Touchy

Expect what will feel like an invasion into your personal space when you are conducting business in Brazil. Your colleagues will stand and sit much closer than you are used to in the US, greet you with an “air kiss” after a few meetings or shared meals, and will, in general, be very open and friendly. Using touch as a means of conveying something is also very common. While the normal reaction might be to back away, you might risk losing a potential business relationship if it is seen as a sign of a personal disrespect or discomfort. In Brazil, physical contact during conversation is natural and signifies the trust between business partners.

Business meetings nearly always last longer than planned, so always clear out twice the time in your schedule: leaving the meeting before it concluded is considered rude.

More in Society