Doing business in Brazil requires a certain amount of patience. Be prepared that your meeting will most likely not start on time. However, in this context it is important to know that when it comes to punctuality there are regional differences in Brazil. In the southern part of the country people usually appreciate punctuality whereas in the north-eastern part delays are rather common. If you have a meeting with Brazilians it’s best to make sure that you yourself are on time. If you are running late call your business partners and inform them about your delay. And here’s another tip: it may be useful to bring along a book or your calendar to your meeting – this way you can bridge the time gap in a useful manner in case you have to wait.
Brazilians are very relationship-oriented and it is therefore not surprising that the preliminary small talk at the beginning of a meeting may take quite a while. By chatting and talking to each other the conversational partners are creating a pleasant atmosphere which is an important precondition for the meeting. Good topics for small talk are the weather, trips and of course soccer. It is also a good idea to praise the beauty of the Brazilian beaches – actually, it is generally of advantage when you talk about Brazil and its people in a positive way! As a foreigner, you should not make jokes about Brazil or Brazilians. And don’t forget: “chatting” doesn’t mean that your business partners ask you questions that you answer! It is rather a game of give and take, so do show interest in your hosts and ask them questions as well.
The actual start of the meeting is then initialized by the highest-ranking person in the room.
Schedules and agendas are not very important for Brazilians – they are rather spontaneous people and tend to leap from one point to another.
Breaks during a meeting are also rather common. Don’t let yourself get irritated by this, it does not mean that your business partners are not interested in you and your project.
It is also possible that certain topics of the meeting will be discussed again in small groups when the meeting has already ended. In this context it might be a good idea to send your conversational partners a short email after the meeting in which you are once again addressing the outcome of these discussions.
If you want to get along well with your Brazilian business partners try going into your business meetings in a good mood. Brazilians don’t like ill-tempered people. So smile when you walk into a room! Brazilians laugh a lot, especially about themselves. It is always well received if you don’t take yourself too seriously. Keep in mind though that irony is not always understood in Brazil and that it is best to avoid ironic or sarcastic remarks.
Brazilians communicate in a very open way and use a lot of body language. Therefore in a conversation, you should also try to signal openness and to keep eye contact with your counterparts.
Although Brazilians talk very expressively, they tend to communicate in an indirect, relationship-oriented way. They hardly use a clear “no” in a conversation as this would be perceived negatively. Instead, they will always answer in a rather positive way. So you have to listen very carefully and spot any signal that they mean rather “no” than “yes.
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 much more 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. Under no circumstances should an individual be exposed in front of the entire team!
Brazilians tend to talk about many things simultaneously. If it is getting too confusing you may try to structure the conversation, for example by saying very politely: “Let me summarize what we just said so that we can get back to the topic we were just discussing …”
At the end of a meeting plan some time to say goodbye. In a smaller meeting, you should definitely say goodbye personally to each attendant person. Of course, you should always start with the highest-ranking manager, and thank them for their hospitality. But also make sure to exchange some words with the persons that you will work with. Don’t forget: building up a good relationship is very important! Keep in mind that bidding goodbye may take as much time as the preliminary small talk at the beginning of the meeting: The attending persons chat a little and by doing so walk slowly out of the room or the company building. In no case should you just get up and say goodbye – this would be considered being very rude.