Country Crash Course: Brazil

Investing time in relationship building

When doing business in Brazil, it is good to keep in mind that Brazilians need to know who they are doing business with before they can work effectively. Business is personal and hence time must be invested to get to know people on a personal level in order to have open and honest conversations in business.

Relationships & Communication
Brazilians prefer face-to-face meetings to written communication as it allows them to know the person with whom they are doing business. The individual they deal with is more important than the company. Since this is a group culture, it is important that you do not do anything to embarrass a Brazilian. Criticizing an individual causes that person to lose face with the others in the meeting. The person making the criticism also loses face, as they have disobeyed the unwritten rule.

Communication is often informal and does not rely on strict rules of protocol. Anyone who feels they have something to say will generally add their opinion. It is considered acceptable to interrupt someone who is speaking. Face-to-face, oral communication is preferred over written communication. At the same time, when it comes to business agreements, Brazilians insist on drawing up detailed legal contracts.

Greetings & Introductions
Men shake hands when greeting one another, while maintaining steady eye contact. Women generally kiss each other, starting with the left and alternating cheeks. Hugging and backslapping are common greetings among Brazilian friends. If a woman wishes to shake hands with a man, she should extend her hand first.

Business Meeting Etiquette
Business appointments are required and can often be scheduled on short notice; however, it is best to make them two to three weeks in advance. Confirm the meeting in writing. It is not uncommon for appointments to be cancelled or changed at the last minute. In Sao Paulo and Brasilia, it is important to arrive on time for meetings. In Rio de Janeiro and other cities, it is acceptable to arrive a few minutes late for a meeting. Do not appear impatient if you are kept waiting. Brazilians see time as something outside their control and the demands of relationships takes precedence over adhering to a strict schedule.

Meetings are generally rather informal. Expect to be interrupted while you are speaking or making a presentation. Avoid confrontations. Do not appear frustrated with your Brazilian colleagues.

Business Negotiation
Expect questions about your company since Brazilians are more comfortable doing business with people and companies they know. Wait for your Brazilian colleagues to raise the business subject. Never rush the relationship-building time. Brazilians take time when negotiating. Do not rush them or appear impatient. Expect a great deal of time to be spent reviewing details.

Often the people you negotiate with will not have decision-making authority. It is advisable to hire a translator if you are not fluent in Portuguese. Use local lawyers and accountants for negotiations. Brazilians resent an outside legal presence. Brazilian business is hierarchical. Decisions are made by the highest-ranking person. Do not change your negotiating team or you may have to start over from the beginning.

It is important to bear in mind that the tips we have provided act as basic and general introductions only. They are not in any way definitive. We do not intend to stereotype, pigeon-hole or try to quantify any culture or people. Each society, country and culture will have numerous nuances that would make it irresponsible to suggest a uniform approach to understanding any country’s social/business culture or etiquette. One also has to take into account the personal cultures of individuals, whether they be religious, regional, gender, corporate or other. However, loose guidelines can assist in bettering understanding and avoiding offence, and these tips are meant only to achieve that.

As this may be a lot of information to take in, we will leave you with three final tips for your own cultural insurance policy:
•    Be self-aware of your own behaviour and how other people are reacting to you.
•    Watch what other people do and learn to copy the behaviour of others for things like touch, eye contact and speaking distance.
•    Develop listening skills to make you a more effective communicator.

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Caroline Osinski is global training manager at Kwintessential, a cross-cultural communications consultancy that provides intercultural training, translation, localization, interpreting and design services, based in Somerset, UK. She can be reached at Or follow on Twitter at @kwint_train

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