Brush Up On Your Brazilian Business Etiquette

European Day of Languages 2019

Whether flying into Brazil on business or connecting digitally, the single most important thing you need to know is:

Brazilians negotiate and make business with people not companies. Brazilians would also do almost anything for close friends. They even have a saying for that: “For friends – everything. For enemies – the law.”

Brazil’s culture is a thriving blend of Portuguese, indigenous Indian and African influences, resulting in a rich, distinct culture.  It is known for its hospitality, openness and colourful and rhythmic events such as the celebration of Carnival. 

Find out more about the cool cultural awareness and savvy business etiquette that can help you find your way around the largest economy in Latin America. 

1. Time

Take your time when greeting and make sure that you exchange business cards with everyone present at a meeting. Always have a sufficient amount on you as you will most certainly be meeting many influential people during the business meetings and networking events.

2. Appearance 

Brazilians pay attention to their appearance and like experimenting with fashion, even in business settings. Opt for elegance and do not be afraid of wearing colors – in Brazil it is appreciated.

The “O.K.” sign (finger and thumb touching) is considered very rude and vulgar; the “thumbs up” gesture is used for approval.

When Brazilians wipe their hands together, it means that something doesn’t matter or is irrelevant at that moment.

When they make a sound with their tongue and shake their heads, it means they disagree or disapprove of something.

Physical contact, like touching arms or tapping backs, is very common and acceptable. Brazilians also tend to sit and stand very close to one another – closer than may be customary in your country.

3. Meetings

It is a great idea to have your business cards translated so that one side shows your contact details in Portuguese and the other side in English respectively.

While giving a business card to your potential business partners, always hand it to them with the Portuguese writing facing the recipient.

Make sure that you plan your business appointments and book them even 3 weeks in advance.

Always try to arrive on time for business meetings in Brasilia and Sao Paolo. In Rio de Janeiro and other cities,  it is more acceptable to arrive a few minutes late.

Don’t show your impatience if kept waiting. To Brazilians time is something they cannot control and the ‘struggles’ of daily life are taken very seriously, meaning that private life occurrences can and will impact the punctuality of your Brazilian counterpart.

Business meetings are rather informal, which you will notice straight away. You can expect to be interrupted while you are speaking or making a presentation. If the meeting is not going as expected, maintain positive body language to avoid being considered impolite.

You will most probably experience honest interest in and questions about your business. As mentioned above, Brazilians feel comfortable doing business with people and companies they (feel they) know.

It should be your Brazilian counterpart that raises the subject of business subject and wait for this to happen and allow the time to do so.  At first, it is all about building an honest business relationship.

3. Communication

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.

Face-to-face communication always trumps written communication. However, when it comes to business, Brazilians insist on very detailed legal contracts.

If your Portuguese is not as fluent as you would wish it to be, it might be a good idea to hire a local translator to support you during your business negotiations. 

4. Negotiations and Business Relationships

Brazil is a so called ‘group culture’, which means that the standing of an individual within the social group is extremely important.

Avoid criticizing a person during a meeting with several other people present, as this represents individual loss of face and subsequently the person expressing criticism may  also lose face, as it is common knowledge that this is not good etiquette.

It is very common to have layered process for negotiations,  where representatives at first meetings will then get approval from their superiors for details initially discussed.

Brazilian business people often do not accept foreign legal experts during negotiations hence it is always better to work with local lawyers, advisors etc.

Brazilian companies have a strictly hierarchical structure, which is an important ‘detail’, especially when you need to address a particular issue or solve a problem.

5. The Working Day

In most Brazilian cities, working hours are 8.30 to 17.00 with an hour or two in the middle for lunch.  Businesses are usually open from 9.00 to 19.00 Monday to Friday and 9.00 to 13.00 on Saturday.  Larger businesses and most in Sao Paulo may be open longer hours. 

Adjust to the pace of Brazilian business, remember to be sociable and approachable and get ready to communicate with success.

Check out more tips for international business, with self-paced courses on the go to help the international traveller make the most of their time.

About the author

Sue Brett
By Sue Brett

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