First impressions are very important in when working with Brazilians. Despite the size of the population, the business community is relatively small and the sociable nature of commerce means that word can get around very quickly. This can be either a disadvantage or an advantage depending on the success of initial meetings.
Personal relationship building is the key to successful business. Respect for your associates is critical and having contacts who are well connected can make business dealings much easier. Brazilians are very astute people. In a society accustomed to people with ulterior motives, they do not suffer foolish foreigners gladly. Empathy will take you far, and a mere modicum of interest in the people will win you loyalty and kindness.
You will make a good impression if you speak some Portuguese, and a very bad one if you start speaking Spanish, which is an insult to Brazilians. At the beginning of and throughout the conversation it is important to appear self-assured. During conversation it is important to keep a soft-spoken manner.
Soccer (football), family, Brazil’s beautiful beaches and the country’s rapid growth are all appropriate conversation topics. Politics, poverty, religion, and the deforestation of Brazil are not. Personal topics such as age, salary and marital or job status are also unacceptable.
Top 10 essentials when working with Brazilians
- Meet in person. Brazilians like to know the person they are doing business with. Meet in person rather than communicating by email. Use a business liaison, or ‘despachante’, to make introductions and help with red tape and making things happen.
- Adjust your expectations. Meetings are conducted at a slower pace than North Americans or Europeans might be used to. Do not be impatient. Allow time at the beginning of a meeting for small talk.
- Recognise the group. Brazil is a collectivist culture and people expect to be protected by the group. Do not single out individuals for criticism in front of their colleagues.
- Aim high. Try to negotiate with the most senior person possible. This may not happen; you may end up in negotiation with middle managers who will make recommendations, but try nonetheless.
- Be flexible. Appointments may be changed at the last minute. Try not to get annoyed if this happens.
- Be prepared to be interrupted. Brazilians are expressive in conversation and may interrupt in the heat of the moment and the spirit of the discussion. This is not a sign of rudeness.
- Take your time. Negotiations often go on for a long time as all the details of a deal are reviewed. Do not show impatience while this is happening.
- Dress well. Brazilians are generally well-groomed for business and will take care with their appearance. They will judge others on the same.
- Learn Portuguese. A grasp of Portuguese is essential if you plan to manage a team in Brazil.
- Be correct. Never, ever refer to Brazil as ‘Latin America’ and do not assume that someone with ‘Latin American’ experience will be the right person to do business in Brazil.
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