Doing business in Brazil

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Brazil is the biggest country in South America and the fifth largest country in the world. It faces the Atlantic Ocean and shares inland borders with every South American country except Chile and Ecuador.

Brazil has a population of 214 million and a high level of urbanisation, with 87 out of every 100 Brazilians living in cities. The four most densely populated cities are Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, the capital Brasília and Fortaleza.

Brazil’s population is a mix of several different ethnic groups. These include descendants of the indigenous population, the Portuguese who colonised the region beginning in the 1500s, and the Africans who were brought as slaves to work the plantations and mines. Starting in the mid-1800s, thousands of European settlers from Italy, Germany, and parts of eastern Europe began to move to the country. Later, in the early 1900s, large groups of Japanese also moved to Brazil. From the earliest days of Brazil’s colonial history, these groups have intermarried, so that today most Brazilians have a variety of ancestors.

The Portuguese language, enriched by Indian and African influences, is the official language of Brazil. Roman Catholicism is the dominant religion, though a number of Indian and African beliefs are also still practiced.

Doing business in Brazil

On a general basis, Brazilians are resilient, hard-working, creative and love to communicate.

Brazil’s culture is group-oriented meaning individual preferences may be seen as less important than having a sense of belonging to the team/group/family, conforming to its norms, and maintaining harmony among its members.

Family plays a large role in everyday life for most Brazilians. Even domestic helpers can become so connected in time that they are also considered family. In fact, everyone joining the regular family gatherings is considered family. When working in Brazil, you must be flexible and understand when family obligations emerge or even give assistance to team members if required. Showing genuine interest and compassion will win people’s hearts.

Despite the images promoted by carnival, Brazil remains conservative. Business is generally hierarchical, and this is reflected in the degree of formality observed among people in business situations. Deference is paid to authority figures. Job function, scope of responsibility, and reporting relationships are clearly defined and strictly followed.

Managers are expected to manage, give direct instructions and be as clear, precise and comprehensive as possible. Employees are given a task to complete and are expected to comply.

Brazilian leaders are known to be cordial and friendly with their subordinates. You will see people embracing warmly, laughing, or quarrelling animatedly. In general, Brazilians are extrovert in personality and despite working hard they also have an easy-going nature. If things do not work today, then they will possibly the next day: ‘Tudo da certo no final’, tomorrow everything will be better.

However, while Brazilians are usually warm and friendly, they are also proud and may be offended by comments that leave room for misunderstandings. Be careful to ‘save face’ and respect everyone’s honour. It is not acceptable to lose patience with others or to criticise them or the country publicly. Silence likely signals their embarrassment.

The Brazilian business environment is marked by flexibility. Punctuality is expected when arriving for work. However, meetings can start late. Brazilians tend to see time more fluidly. For example, if they are late because a previous engagement took longer than expected, they will view the delay with your meeting as a natural consequence. Deadlines can be flexible, depending on the situation.

Similarly, if an agenda is produced at a meeting all the issues will be covered, but not necessarily in the order they appear on the agenda. In a country which is hampered by red bureaucracy, this flexible approach ('Jeitinho' meaning ‘little way’) is of real importance.

As relationship-building is so important in Brazil, do not be offended if a phone call is answered during a business meeting, it does not mean the other is not interested in what you have to say. Also, an extended farewell is a normal part of business once meetings have concluded.

Business may appear to start slowly but later details suddenly will be analysed thoroughly. Do not push too hard for strict deadlines but invest your time and effort on relationships, rather than coming across as ‘cold and distant’.  This will help you guide, influence and motivate your counterparts to see your point of view.

Remember, look Brazilians directly in the eyes both when talking and listening. Always shake hands, with men and women. It is well-mannered to greet every person individually – just saying ‘hi’ to the whole group will not be appreciated. Saying goodbye is in the same style.

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Inspired? If you want to learn how you can work more effectively with your Brazilian colleagues, clients or supplier, contact us for a 'Doing business in Brazil' sample course outline.  All training is tailored to meet your needs and delivered at a location of your choice.

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