Negotiating with a Brazilian is similar to other countries but certainly not a walk in the park. They are diplomatic and sometimes hard to read. Knowledge of Brazilian business culture and negotiation nuances is critical to closing deals.
The general consensus is that Brazilians are warm, friendly and diplomatic people, which is true. However, these characteristics don’t necessarily translate into easy negotiations. Brazilians are smart, clever and tactful deal makers. Study the people, know their history, and understand their culture before entering into negotiations.
It is important to learn and know as much as possible about the country. The greater knowledge about Brazil translates into earning greater respect from Brazilians. It is essential to learn a few basic things about Brazil to avoid portraying the typical ignorant gringo. These are the most important things:
- Portuguese is the language spoken in Brazil not Spanish, Italian or Brazilian. The language misnomer is a common mistake made by foreigners
- Brazilians don’t really consider themselves as part of Latin America. They’re cultural heritage is primarily from Portugal and not Spain. Yes, there are similarities between Brazil and Latin American, but there are also great differences.
- Brazil is not a jungle and Brazilians don’t consider areas outside of the Amazon Rainforest to be the jungle. Palm trees, vines, and lizards can be found in cities such as São Paulo but that doesn’t mean Brazilians consider it the rainforest and saying so can be construed as offensive.
- Brasilia is the capital and not Rio de Janeiro or Buenos Aires.
- Make your Brazilian counterparts know that you understand that there is more to Brazil than soccer, beautiful women, and beaches.
- Brazilians can be critical of their country for such problems such as corruption, poor quality education, violence, etc. Never criticize Brazil in front of other Brazilians even if they are or if they’re saying positive things about other countries and how it should be like that in Brazil.
- Brazilians are warm and friendly. Men may give you a pat on the back or side along with the handshake. Women will most likely shake hands but a kiss on the cheek, or two, is common once a closer personal relationship has been established. It’s normal for meetings to start off with handshakes all around and then at the end come the back patting and cheek kissing now that everyone knows each other.
Knowledge of how Brazilians behave in meetings and negotiations will help reduce the risk of being offended or becoming frustrated. The pace and punctuality in Brazil is slower than in the U.S. or the U.K. The prevalent tendencies of Brazilians in negotiations are:
- Brazilians value personal relationships and prefer to establish them before business negotiations take place. It is wise to create a personal connection before jumping straight into the business negotiations.
- Punctuality varies by region with the business center São Paulo being considered as having the fastest pace. Regardless, expect the pace to be slow leading up to negotiations.
- Communications are difficult especially when trying to get in touch with decision makers. Picking up the phone and calling as many times as it takes to talk to the person can often be the most effective strategy compared to email or leaving messages and waiting to be called back.
- Brazilians tend to be indirect and not as objective as other cultures. Emotions, such as satisfaction and disappoint are readily expressed.
- Brazilians rarely say no directly. They’re diplomatic and non-confrontational. A no usually comes in the form of a maybe, possibly in the future, or potentially which, all really mean no.
- Brazil is a civil law country and therefore there are laws for just about everything. Proper vetting of legal matters is recommended for applicable laws of the business proposal.
Closing the Deal
Negotiations can be difficult with language and cultural barriers. Once the legwork has been done it is key to not blow the deal at the negotiation table.
- Start high with prices as a little compromise is general practice towards the end of negotiations.
- Private offices are uncommon in Brazil even for senior level executives. Interruptions should be expected as well as a colleague popping their head in to relay information or a seemingly unimportant phone call.
- It’s common to start off the meeting with small talk before discussing the details.
- Specific information, even minimally relevant, may be reviewed over and over again which, can be exacerbated by with the language barrier.
- Hierarchy is fundamental in Brazil usually leaving it up to one person to make the final decision.
- Contracts and documents are not usually signed immediately after a deal has been closed. A handshake and affirmation is sufficient until the paperwork is handled at a later date.
- Bring and share business cards generously.
- Mask frustration and disappoint.
- Don’t leave right after the meeting unless it has been made clear that time is tight. Accepting any post negotiation invitations if possible.
The right historical and cultural research can go a long way to improving negotiations with Brazilians. The greater the knowledge of the people means the greater the chances of success. Keep an eye out for dead-ends and make sure to develop the personal relationships with Brazilian counterparts as much as possible. Personal references down the road are invaluable business resources in Brazil.