If you are conducting any kind of international business, being able to adapt to the local culture is essential in order to succeed. Compared to many countries around the world, Brazil actually has relatively few rules when it comes to business (and social) etiquette. Still, it’s important to be aware of the ones they follow.
Building a close relationship with your business partner, being positive during negotiations, and demonstrating an enjoyable personality is vital to be successful in Brazil. Above all, Brazilians do business with people, not companies, which is the most important advice you can get.
In this post, we’re going to break down everything you need to know about Brazilian business etiquette, the do’s and don’ts while making enterprising in the country, Brazilian business cultural differences, dress codes, and tips on how to be successful with your career while working in Brazil.
The Brazilian Business Mentality
The first thing you need to understand is how Brazilians think when they do business. As I said earlier in the post, Brazilians like to do business with people and not companies, no matter the segment. This essentially means that Brazilians like building personal relationships before advancing on work negotiations, as they feel much more comfortable doing business with people they know.
Whether you’re flying to Brazil or just doing business by connecting online, knowing how to use the local culture to your advantage is key if you want your work affairs to be successful in the country. With that in mind, here are some important topics you need to know more about:
Small Talk to Build Personal Relationships
If you’re about to engage a Brazilian person (or a group) at a business meeting, be aware that the first 10 or 15 minutes will probably be all about small talk. This is because Brazilians like to know who they’re dealing with, and they use this opportunity to get a feel of your personality and manners.
So it’s important to “play their game” and don’t rush into any business talk before the ice is broken with a little chatter. If you seem or sound impatient, this will likely be perceived as a negative trait, which could potentially harm your negotiations.
While this may go right into the opposite direction of the usual American-right-down-to-business-style, being more relaxed and looking interested in getting to know your business counterparts can actually get you a long way in Brazil.
To help you improve your conversation topics while dealing with Brazilians, here’s what you should and shouldn’t talk about:
Good Conversation Topics
- soccer and sports
- family and music
- the country’s paradisiac destinations
- knowing facts about the Brazilian culture other than Carnaval
- showing appreciation for the country’s economic potential
Bad Conversation Topics
- politics (a subject that’s been highly polarized since President Jair Bolsonaro’s election in 2018)
- poverty and criminality in the country
- praising Argentina as a country (it is considered a life-long rival of Brazil)
- personal questions such as age, salary, marital or job status
Brazilian Business Meetings Culture
While on the subject of business meetings, there are a few peculiarities on the way that Brazilians conduct them that you must know about. Here are a few things you should consider before going into an online or in-person meeting with a Brazilian:
Expect More Than One Meeting to Conclude the Negotiation
If you’re meeting up with a business counterpart for the first time, don’t expect to close a deal or leave the conference with a final response. Brazil has a very layered negotiation process, and as I can’t stress enough, they take their time to elaborate and get to know who they’re making business with.
In sum, try to go with the flow, relax, and don’t try to rush any type of negotiation, as this could be interpreted as something negative by Brazilian locals. It usually takes a couple of meetings before you actually get anywhere, so patience is the key here.
Brazilian business is hierarchical, and the highest-ranking person usually makes the final saying. This is the main reason why it usually takes a few meetings before striking up a deal.
Translated Business Cards
Brazilians are very appreciative when people from outside the country make the effort of knowing a little bit of their language and culture. Having your business cards translated to Brazilian Portuguese will most likely get you to be perceived as considerate and courteous, which will instantly raise your profile in the meeting.
If you’re face-to-face with the person, you’re having a meeting with and want to add a gesture of good taste, always hand your business card with the Portuguese writing facing the recipient. This will not only be a perfect introduction but will also help to break the ice in the initial moments of your meeting.
Schedule Your Business Meeting In Advance
It is also of good taste to schedule all your potential meetings at least two or three weeks in advance. Brazilians tend to mix their professional and personal lives quite a lot, so it’s best to give them additional time to prepare. It’s not unusual they are delayed or cancel a meeting without warning, so always check one or two days before the estimated date if the meeting is still on.
Lunch Business Meetings are a common thing in Brazil
Business meetings in Brazil are usually held in more casual settings, such as a cafe or restaurant. Don’t be surprised if you have a meeting in the late hours of the morning and get asked to join for lunch to wrap things up, as this is pretty common in the country.
Business meetings in the middle of the afternoon over a cup of coffee are also very customary in Brazil, as it’s not uncommon for there to be some breaks for more coffee throughout the duration of the meeting.
Brazilians are known to be 15 to 30 minutes late, whether for professional purposes or personal affairs. With the exception of São Paulo (which is the country’s biggest metropolis – and therefore, takes business more seriously) and Brasília, almost everywhere in the country, people tend to arrive a little later than the agreed, so don’t be surprised if it happens to you.
Also, as much as you’re right about being a little pissed off to be kept waiting, try not to show any impatience or annoyance if it should happen. As I previously said, Brazilians tend to let their personal affairs sometimes get in the way of their business, so any occurrences in their private life can and will impact their punctuality.
Business Work Hours
In the majority of Brazilian cities, the working hours are usually from 8.30 am to 5.00 pm with an hour or two in the middle of the day for lunch. Most businesses are usually open from 9.00 am to 7.00 pm, Monday to Friday, and 9.00 to 1.00 pm on Saturday, but several larger businesses throughout the country may extend the work hours and be opened for more time.
Regarding business meetings, don’t expect the conference to be over just because you’re going over time. Even if it’s past the oficial work hours, meetings can be prolonged until the major points of interest from both parties are resolved, so try to schedule yours in the first half of the day so you won’t get caught up.
The Brazilian Business Dress Code
As you probably noticed by now, Brazilians aren’t as formal as other parts of the world when it comes to business, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take your time choosing what you’re going to wear. Although every region in the country (Brazil is officially divided into 5 different regions) has its own peculiarities, it’s not hard to pick something that’s going to please everyone.
Brazilians to pay attention to their appearance, regardless of the meeting being formal or not, so here’s some advice on both of these situations:
Formal Brazilian Business Meeting Attire
If you’re having a meeting with high-profile people in Brazil, it’s time to make a safe choice and pick your formal wear in neutral colors. For example, three-piece suits indicate an executive-level status or higher, so make sure you pick your sharpest to make a good impression.
Here are some tips on how to dress appropriately for a formal Brazilian Business Meeting:
Women Attire For Formal Meetings in Brazil
- Top: a cotton or chiffon dress shirt is always a safe option
- Bottoms: tailored or wide flair pants in a dark or neutral color (like beige)
- Dress/skirts: if you’re going for a skirt, try picking a black or tweed skirt that doesn’t go more than 4 fingers above your knee. If you’re planning on wearing a dress, pick something with no cleavage and that’s not too short (same 4 finger rule as the skirts)
- Shoes: court shoes and loafers are your best bet
- Accessories: simple jewelry and watch, stockings, and a purse
Men Attire For Formal Meetings in Brazil
- Top: white cotton button shirts are usually a very safe option, but it’s not a problem if you want to throw in a little color or a pattern, as long as it’s something discreet
- Suit: two or three-piece suits in black or navy blue are the ideal choice for a formal meeting. If you can get it tailor-made, even better.
- Accessories: a silk tie is mandatory, as well as a belt and a watch
- Shoes: oxford black or brown shoes with matching socks
Casual Brazilian Business Meeting Attire
Now, if the meeting you’re attending doesn’t require you to put on a full business get-up, there’s a lot you can choose from in order to compose your look. There’s a saying in Brazil that goes like “the further you go North and East of the country, the more relaxed and chill are the people, and that really does apply.
Mainly because of the warm weather, most regions of Brazil have been increasingly adopting a more casual dress code, so here’s what you can do if you’re scheduled for a more informal conference:
Women Attire For Casual Meetings in Brazil
- Top: keep it simples with a chiffon blouse, a fashion turtleneck or something a pattern. You can also wear a blazer to compose your final look.
- Bottoms: chino and structured wool pants are very much acceptable in any casual business meeting
- Dress/skirts: a dark-colored dress, or an A-line or pleated skirt are comfortable and adequate choices
- Shoes: loafers, brogue shoes, and high heels (up to 4 inches) are the most worn pieces by women in casual meetings
- Accessories: same as for formal meetings, light jewelry, and a simple watch are your best bets
Men Attire For Casual Meetings in Brazil
- Blazer: wearing a blazer isn’t really mandatory or necessary, but it can sure improve your looks and lets you to strike a great first impression. If the weather allows for the piece, chose a dark or neutral color, or a light checkers pattern.
- Top: a nice classic dress shirt is enough to look adequate. Depending on the situation, you may even wear it untucked, which is commonly seen in usually hot places such as Rio de Janeiro, Bahia, and Espírito Santo.
- Bottoms: smart or chino pants in a beige or darker shade are the safest bets for a meeting. Jeans are also acceptable, as long as they have a straight cut (no skintight or destroyed jeans)
- Shoes: loafers and brogue shoes are the most common choices, but Brazilian men tend to wear a lot of sapatênis to casual business meetings, which are a more formal kind of sneakers.
- Accessories: wearing a casual belt and a watch to compose your look is always a good idea, as long as it isn’t too flashy or takes too much attention.
General Tips for The Proper Dress Code In Brazilian Business
- Don’t Show Too Much Skin: if it’s a work-related meeting, there’s no need to flaunt your figure in revealing outfits. Even though Brazil is pretty known for minimal clothing, this doesn’t translate well into the business world.
- Choose the right fit: Picking an outfit that fits you well is very important. Pay close attention if there’s nothing too tight or too loose, as Brazilians are very conservative when it comes to self-presentation.
- Do your hair right: choosing the important hairstyle is just as important as picking the right outfit. Men should go for a more trimmed clean look, and as for the women, try to keep your hair from covering too much of your face.
- Wear Subtle Frangrances: perfumes are very personal, so what may feel like a positively striking scent, could feel like torture to somebody else, which could ultimately backfire your plans of impressing. Stick to lighter fragrances while attending a business meeting.
- Go Easy On The Makeup: wearing a more soft foundation, some light eyeliner, and a light lip tint or lipstick are your best bets for achieving an appropriate business look. Stay away from heavy colors and go easy on that beating, you don’t want to look like you’re trying too hard, right?
- Accessorize With Caution: go minimal while accessorizing. Choose simple and classic pieces like a pair or earrings and a clean necklace for example, but don’t overdo it!
- Look Comfortable in What You’re Wearing: if you don’t look comfortable in the clothes you’re wearing, that will probably be noticed by other people. Try to match your personal style with the tips we just gave you, if you look confident in what you’re wearing, that will naturally translate into your attitude and to the others around you.
Communication in Brazilian Business
Another key point of interest if you want to make your business successful in Brazil is being able to communicate well with your Brazilian work associate. And while learning a little bit of Portuguese could get you a long way, there’s more to it than just the language barrier, as the proper forms of treatment and body language interpretation are also different in Brazil when compared to the rest of the world.
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.
Even while doing business, most people in Brazil usually tend to adopt first names right of the back. If you want to be courteous, you could use “Senhor” (Mister) or “Senhora” (Mrs) to precede the person’s name, leaving it to them if they want the treatment to continue. If they’re not keen or comfortable in being called “Sir” or “Mrs,” they’ll tell you to lay off the formalities.
Professional titles such as “Doctor” and “Professor” are often used amongst business acquaintances, especially by juniors or employees with a lower hierarchy. So, a doctor whose name is Sebastião Ferreira may be “Dr. Sebastião to his juniors and just “Sebastião” for his peers; it depends on how they want to be referred to as.
In the legal world, attorneys often refer to one another by their last names, which is also very common.
Learn Some Brazilian Portuguese
Brazilians are very appreciative when people from outside the country make an effort to learn more about the country. If you show them you know a little bit of Brazilian Portuguese (even if just for show), it’s very likely that this will make you stand out and be remembered by the people you’re meeting with.
And it really doesn’t take much for Brazilians to commend you on your effort; just learning a few simple phrases to demonstrate you care about the culture should be enough to make your associates pleased.
Whatever you do, just don’t speak Spanish to Brazilian people, thinking they also know the language. Most people in the country are quite touchy with that subject and will get specifically upset with the fact that you believe they speak the same language as the “rest of Latin America.” Portuguese in Brazil is also very different from the open spoken in Portugal, so keep that in mind while learning the language.
While speaking in your mother language, make sure to speak clearly and slowly, as not everyone you come across will be fluent in English. Under 5% of the Brazilian population knows proper English, so be patient while trying to communicate. If you’re not comfortable with the language barrier (if there is one), consider hiring a local translator to support you during your business negotiations.
It’s OK To Interrupt a Conversation
If you’re making a presentation or going on about an idea, expect to be interrupted by a Brazilian. But believe it or not, this is actually not a bad thing, as this means that the person who interrupted is actually engaged and has a genuine interest in what you’re saying.
If you’re unsure of how to do it without seeming rude, observe how the other people put in their remarks and observations about what’s being discussed, you’ll be able to get a feeling of how you can “butt in” without sounding impolite. If you don’t interrupt, you might not get a word in at all, as Brazilians don’t really take turns in letting everyone talk one at a time.
But if you’re interrupting to criticize what’s being said, it’s best to wait until a better opportunity, as this type of statement is not considered good etiquette in Brazil.
The Brazilian Body Language
One of the main things that foreigners may find very different (especially North Americans) is how Brazilians have little care for personal space and are very physical with how they communicate. While engaging in a conversation, you’ll notice a lot of touching of the arms and back, which is habitual in the way they communicate.
Most Brazilian people also tend to sit and speak very close to one another, which may look odd at first, but it does not imply anything beyond friendly treatment. Besides that, good eye contact is mandatory, as Brazilians consider it very rude if you don’t talk directly to them.
In regards to greetings, men usually like to give one another taps in the back in addition to the classic handshake. Women also use the same treatment minus the back taps, which are sometimes replaced by a kiss on the cheek (not applied to formal business meetings).
That was it for our complete guide on Brazilian business etiquette! I hope this post was useful if you’re trying to learn more about how Brazilians relate to one another in a work environment, which is sometimes pretty different from the rest of the world, as you could see!
While you’re here, I think we might interest you with these:
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