Cultural Differences – Brazil

Brazil is a multicultural and very open-minded country. Foreign business people are generally greeted warmly and with great interest. Brazilians are, however, not easily impressed. Their strong self-confidence breeds their attitude, ‘We are who we are’. For good bi-national contacts, you should thus bear in mind that you should always show your Brazilian partners the necessary respect – even when things don’t run as smoothly as you might be used to.

No Business with Strangers

Joint projects with Brazilian business partners require a solid personal relationship, before anything can happen. This pre-condition often clearly contradicts foreign business partner’s rationality, so that they again and again have to overcome their natural inclinations and invest a lot of time and effort into establishing close ties. It is thus also recommended that you hold on to those contacts once they have been introduced to you. Otherwise, if a new contact is introduced, talks and negotiations often start all over again – after all, in Brazil, you don’t do business with strangers. Continuity, reliability and friendship are the most important characteristics in a business relationship. They are more important than the project itself.

Talking Without Intermission

Brazilians are fast talkers. Foreign business people on a business trip in Brazil often find it difficult to follow a conversation between several people, the more so as the Brazilian conversational style allows interruptions of the person talking. Often the second speaker starts already, whilst the first one is still finishing his sentence. Well educated people thus often wait in vain for a break in the conversation that would allow them to contribute to the same without having to interrupt someone. If you don’t talk away happily, you will quickly be left out. But be aware: Brazilians react very indignantly if someone tries to make the conversation his own and patronise others. Despite simultaneously talking, it is always ensured that the conversation is balanced.

With Lots of Animation

Probably, no one has ever listened to you with such animation and vocal power as your Brazilian business partners! Loud interjections and keen gesticulations signal a big interest in Brazil’s business culture. You should take this to heart especially when it comes to meetings and presentations, so your Brazilian speaker doesn’t think you are bored. Discussions in Brazil are just as ‘animated’. Business people from abroad, however, often find the Brazilian way of discussing things very confrontational.

Direct eye contact contributes a lot more to good communication in Brazilian business culture than you might be used to. Brazilians find it rude or unpleasant if eye contact is not held throughout a conversation. Moreover, everyone involved in a conversation stands very close together. If your Brazilian business partners are not aware their guests require a certain social distance, you should meet their intensive gaze.

Private Matters are Taboo

Although Brazilians are very positive and social people, they will react rather discreetly to questions regarding their private life. At the same time, however, they might ask their business partners questions about their salary, their religion and their wealth. Most foreign business people feel that such questions are too private. For Brazilians, however, such topics are common and simply interesting. If you don’t want to answer such questions you should politely give an indirect and vague response.

Patience Instead of Haste

For meetings or negotiations in Brazil, one should bring a lot of time and patience. Breaks of any kind are always welcome. No one gets worked up about time schedules. Thus, if you want to achieve good results, more frequent and longer meetings are required. Since those meetings usually start a lot later than originally planned, are interrupted several times and thus drag on for a bit, it is sensible to not make a schedule that is too tight. You should plan for a few hours (!) of buffer time in between each appointment. By the way, Brazilians are very sensitive when it comes to leaving a meeting that has overrun “early” due to another appointment. Leaving a meeting abruptly or suspending it implies that you have something more important to do than being with your Brazilian partners. This impression is very detrimental to personal relations!

Punctuality plays a rather minor role in Brazilian business culture. Nevertheless, fixed days and times are agreed upon for meetings etc. Foreign business partners are expected to demonstrate a certain punctuality anyway. It is also obligatory to arrive on time for business dinners in restaurants.

Improvisation Instead of Routine

Brazilians are said to be analytical thinkers. They like to scrutinise every detail during projects and check individual pieces of information over and over. The implementation of a project in Brazil is done accordingly: many things that seemed to have been agreed on are changed again at short notice. Appointments are often postponed at the last minute. If there is a danger that a deal will fall through and you find yourself in a bit of a pickle, the real Brazilian talent comes into play: improvising. Everyone pitches in and works late into the night. The catastrophe, thus, (almost) never happens.

Gut Decisions

Brazilian companies are structured in a very hierarchical way. Status and power play a big role. Only the head of a company can make decisions and is authorised to sign a contract. Many Brazilian entrepreneurs, however, make decisions based on their gut feeling rather than numbers and facts. It is thus very hard for rational and number-loving business partners to try and convince their Brazilian partners by using impressive PowerPoint charts and difficult calculations.

What’s important are good personal ties. A handshake or a verbal undertaking are enough; contracts and paperwork are drafted sometime later. Brazil is full of joie-de-vivre – and that goes for day-to-day business as well. Show your vitality and joy and you will encounter a lot of openness and goodwill. And if the project looks like it will descend into chaos, you will need one thing in particular, besides patience, and that is: trust.

Katrin Koll Prakoonwit

+49 (0)711 722 468 44
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