10 tips for doing business in Brazil
Business in Brazil is booming, and for the next couple of weeks, all eyes will be on South America’s biggest country as the Olympic Games takes off. Whether it’s your first business trip there, or if you’re just trying to keep your business going while you get a real-life glimpse of Ennis-Hill, Farah, Wiggins et al, here are ten tips to help you get the most out of your trip.
- Business is personal
Business is important for citizens of the world’s seventh largest economy, but so are personal relations. It’s normal for Brazilians to engage in small talk and chat prior to a formal business discussion either in person or on the phone. Forget about this cultural norm (or try to rush it) and you risk alienating your associates. No-one likes to think they’re being used, they value the personal contact.
- Use your body language
The personal connection extends to body language and it’s expected that you’ll maintain eye contact while talking and listening. On greeting, handshakes are often long and enthusiastic. Close friends tend to embrace on first meeting and people will often stand close to each other while talking.
- Don’t take time too seriously
Many Brazilians take a somewhat ‘approximate’ view of punctuality. Meetings don’t necessarily start bang on time and a bit of a wait may be considered normal. This doesn’t indicate a lack of consideration or interest, it’s just what’s expected.
- Talk, don’t mail
Sending email or leaving messages may get the response you want, but don’t rely on them. Picking up the phone and calling as many times as necessary to make direct contact is much more likely to get a favourable reaction.
- Don’t be afraid of emotion
Putting your emotions on display encourages engagement in Brazil and makes you seem like a genuine person. The famous British reserve is unlikely to help with engagement.
- Dr who?
The title ‘Dr’ is often used as a mark of respect, regardless of whether or not someone has a PhD to back it up. Also, people tend to be referred to by their first names, rarely their last names, eg Dr Gabriel or Seu Gabriel for a man, or Dra Glória or Dona Maria for a woman.
- Default to formal dress
Brazilians might expect informality in conversation or address, but rarely in attire. You’ll never be criticised for wearing a business suit, but jeans or trainers can easily be taken as disrespectful.
- Don’t take ‘não’ for an answer
You’re unlikely to hear a response as direct as ‘no’ from a Brazilian business person. Often keen to avoid conflict or confrontation, you’re more likely to hear a ‘maybe’ (talvez), or ‘potentially’ (potencialmente) – just remember that both of these pretty much mean ‘não’.
- Not ‘OK’
Brazilian natives will often use hand gestures in conversation, but avoid using the ‘OK’ symbol (thumb and forefinger touching to form an ‘O’). It’s considered vulgar so best not to use it in polite company, and if you need to point at something, use your whole hand rather than your forefinger, for the same reason.
- Portuguese, not Spanish
Brazil is the only Portuguese-speaking country in South America and its inhabitants are proud of it. The ability to speak a few Spanish phrases will impress no-one – take the time to learn a few key phrases in Portuguese, especially for a first greeting.