To cultivate a good relationship is the most important factor when entering a conversation with Brazilians. This can be achieved by lots of small talk, showing a good sense of humour as well as an authentic interest in the other person’s life. By chatting to each other the conversational partners are creating a pleasant atmosphere which is an important precondition for any further talks.
Indirect and person-oriented
Brazilians are very expressive and emotional in their communication. At the same time, they are always positive and person-oriented. Although Brazilians talk very expressively, they tend to communicate in an indirect, diplomatic way.
They hardly use a clear “no” in a conversation as this would be perceived negatively. Instead, they will answer in a rather positive way, even if they have to reject an offer. So you have to listen very carefully and spot any signal that they mean rather “no” than “yes”, e.g. a slow and vague response tends to be an indirect “no”. With these tactics both conversation partners do not lose face and their personal relationship is not damaged at any point. The aim of any conversation is to please and to be perceived as likeable. Even in tough negotiations, one tends to allow everyone to win something.
A circular way
Another aspect to consider is that Brazilians tend to communicate in a circular way, coming to the point through circles that develop ever-closer. To people, who are used to talking in a targeted way this circular communication style tends to appear time-consuming and in some cases even incompetent. For Brazilians, however, it is a rather gentle approach to deal with difficult subjects. Circle by circle, level by level they will reach an agreement.
In a relationship oriented culture like Brazil, you will generally achieve more with praise than with criticism. However, if it is unavoidable to express some criticism please do it in a very careful and constructive way. Brazilians express criticism rather indirectly, so don’t blame a mistake directly on a person or refer to the “guilty party”. Instead, stay factual and mention many positive facts as well. Formulate your points of criticisms in conditional sentences, for example “one could “, “one should “, “it would be better to” and the like. Ask your Brazilian colleagues for suggestions to defuse the situation and try to find ways to do better next time. If it is absolutely necessary to specifically talk about one or more persons, you should do this in a private conversation. Under no circumstances should an individual be exposed in front of the entire team!
Despite the expressive verbal communication in Brazil, a lot of information is given non-verbally. So keep in mind, that words and body language may tell a different story. Brazilians may also focus a lot on your body language!
Brazilians are not used to keeping distance to their conversational partner – especially not if they want to establish a feeling of trust and attachment. So don’t be surprised if during a conversation your counterpart might come closer and closer. In addition to this a pat on the shoulder always is a sign of sympathy – even if you disagree with a person on certain subjects.
Some typical Brazilian gestures are worth mentioning:
Flipping the bird
If you do this in Brazil it might not immediately be meant or seen as an insult. In Brazil, people may tap their forehead at someone when wondering about his or her behaviour. Actually, they may even tap their forehead at themselves. So it is not really about being rude when calling someone crazy. Instead, it rather is a way of expressing criticism in a humorous way.
The most common gesture in Brazil is certainly this one: Thumbs up. This gesture can mean all kinds of things: “very good”, “I agree”, “the date is fixed”, “will do”, “thank you”, and so on. If you for example are driving your car and you want to change lanes just reach out with your arm and do this (Thumbs up). Chances are high that the cars on the other lane will let you smoothly change over. To make a long story short: “Thumbs up” generally signalizes a good atmosphere – and that is what counts in Brazil.
On the other hand please be careful with this sign (FOREFINGER AND THUMP FORM A CIRCLE). For a long time, this gesture had a very obscene meaning in Brazil. Nowadays Brazilians are more and more relaxed about it since they know that for example in the United States the gesture merely means “ok”. However, it’s best not to show this gesture at all. And of course the same applies to flipping the finger at someone.
When counting with your fingers in Brazil you start with your forefinger: “ONE”. Then you go on like this: TWO, THREE …