The Brazilian culture of sympathy

When you meet previously unknown business partners for the first time, wait until your Brazilian host introduces them to you. Only then should you greet them. It is quite normal to very swiftly move to using first names even in a business context. In contrast to most other Latin American countries, family names are rarely used in Brazil.

An important point that needs to be stressed is the widespread nature of hierarchical thinking. Brazil is a status-orientated and colonial-influenced society where elitism is strong and status is flaunted. In terms of appearance, it is strictly necessary to display your status.

For a appropriate appearance it is absolutely necessary to comply with the appropriate dress code.

A five-star hotel as location for a meeting is not a sign of extravagance, but would rather signal to your Brazilian business partners that “our country is important for this person”. It is recommended, moreover, to try to maintain an air of authority and to allow no informal contact with lower hierarchical levels. The person that receives a familiar slap on the shoulder from a doorman as a greeting may very well lose the respect of his business partners.

Show no arrogance

In contrast, as a foreigner, you must be careful not to appear arrogant toward Brazilians. O maior país do mundo: although Brazil is in fact only the fifth largest country in the world, for Brazilians it is the largest. And in addition, God is Brazilian. If one does not like or appreciate the country and its people and, furthermore, behaves in a patronising way because so many things do not follow e.g. Central European standards, then the battle has already been lost.

This is why meeting your Brazilian business partners with haughtiness would be a serious mistake. Arrogance is punished with defiance. If you make that mistake once, it is very difficult to remedy afterwards. This type of conduct would prevent any businesses being established in Brazil, no matter how good or attractive the product or service may be, or the level of expertise that you might have at your disposal. Business is personal in Brazil: you make transactions between people and not, as is usual in some other countries, between companies. If the chemistry between the partners is right, the business also works out.

A positive- thinking leader

In view of the above it should be noted that Brazilians expect a positive-thinking leader who always finds a solution and is fully networked socially. False modesty, understatement and operating in a way that focuses on problems can cause irritation. Brazil is the country of jeitinho, of the attitude that everything is possible and a solution can be found for every problem. You should also radiate this attitude.

Positive Communication

The Brazilian communication style reflects their culture, with a focus on empathy, positivity and good spirits. People tend to act in a way which allows everyone to do well and so that no one loses face. It is a society of “open arms”, similarly to Rio’s Corcovado image of Christ.

However, in Brazil there is a prevailing “come and get it, it’s not my responsibility to provide it” attitude. While one may be welcomed with open arms, you may still have to do the coming forward. Usually it is you who has to make the first move, then renew the approach repeatedly and seek contact. What initially feels like passive restraint may eventually become participation, allowing a sense of belonging to grow. All of this costs a lot of time and energy, but it’s the only way, as an outsider, to be able to become part of the Brazilian team.

How can you nail the positive basis for communication, so important in Brazil? Don’t underestimate the power of the smile: for example laughs, humour, being relaxed, having time for others, being interested in others, their family and friends, praising and seeking physical proximity. Relationships between people are the most important factor, in business as in wider life. This can be established by always looking for a common denominator. The important thing is to please and to be perceived as likeable. Competences, such as expertise, should always remain in the background initially.

Circular = appreciative

Moreover, communication is often circular. The conversation develops slowly, coming to the point through circles that develop ever-closer. To people, who are used to talking in a much more direct and targeted way and who like to come to the heart of the matter with no digressions this circular communication style tends to appear incompetent. When seen from the Brazilian perspective, however, this form of communication states once again the appreciation of the other person, as it’s a very gentle approach.

Getting along without “no”

Brazilians tend to communicate in a much more indirect way than what is usual in some other countries. Therefore, it is rare to hear them state a clear “no”. A “no” would be perceived as a rejection of the whole person, understood not only in relation to the matter being discussed.

When Brazilians want to reject something during a conversation, their tone becomes softer. Both body language and look express understanding. They apologise for their negative approach, give an explanation and designate the cause (or find a gentle excuse). In addition, they hold out the prospect that “next time”, at an undefined point in the future, everything will eventually work out, for sure.

With this tactic the other is given respect and he does not lose face. The shared basis of the personal relationship is not destroyed by a merciless “no”.

Understanding a spontaneous “yes” correctly

You’ll hear “yes” a lot more frequently: Brazilians are spontaneous and friendly and constantly have the desire to please their counterpart. So they will quickly invite you to their homes or suggest doing something together. But don’t change your plans immediately. Many such invitations are usually just a way of being pleasant, no more and no less. An invitation is really meant only if precise details follow.

How can you know whether a “yes” is really a “yes”? When Brazilians have a great interest in a topic or an offer, they send out clear signals. For example, you can expect a very fast response or feedback.

Over time it is possible to develop a sense of when a Brazilian “yes” in reality means “no”. It is important to become aware of this particular facet of communication and to be prepared in the best possible way.

Markus Hasenfratz
Gerardo Müller Albán

+49 (0)711 722 468 44
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