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Cultural Awareness Training Brazil

By Antoine Faugeres

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By Antoine Faugeres

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I have worked and lived in São Paulo for 20 years and it has been very interesting to watch the growth in interest in the business culture of Brazil during that period.
I suppose this reflects the growing impact of Brazil economy in the world.
In our experience clients’ interest in Brazil culture training stems from 4 main concerns:

  1. A client has been acquired by a Brazilian parent company and is concerned about being able to influence their new head office effectively.
  2. A client has a significant supply chain in Brazil.
  3. A client has a subsidiary operating in Brazil – either manufacturing or sales.
  4. A client is looking at Brazil as a potentially lucrative future market.

Whatever the client’s relationship with Brazil might be, it seems obvious that a better understanding of cultural expectations in Brazil will make any relationships run smoother and Brazil cultural awareness training for key staff then becomes a ‘need to have’ and not a ‘nice to have’.

So, what should a good Brazil cultural awareness training programme focus on? Well, I’ll start by covering what it definitely shouldn’t focus on – trivia!
I recently received an email from a client asking us to cover the following issues in a course for their senior exec team:

  • Best way to greet and introduce an individual
  • If receiving a gift, how to respond appropriately
  • Anything on entertaining/dinner/drinks?
  • Anything else useful

These are the type of areas I would consider to be trivia and they will not have a significant impact (positive or negative) on business going forward. You’ll never lose a deal in Brazil because you introduce yourself ‘oddly’ from a Brazilian perspective – they know you are not Brazilian!

5 Key areas for Brazilian Culture Training

In our view there are five key areas that a training programme should focus on. There are others, but time is always limited so these are the essential topics:

1. Communication

The manifestation of all business ideas is through the language that you use, and communication is the key business tool. Communicating with people in your own culture who speak the same language as you can be difficult enough, but cross-cultural communication can be a minefield. Any Brazil cultural awareness training programme should have a significant section which explores the complexities of communicating in Brazil.

Key areas to focus on are:

  • Communication styles
  • Body language issues
  • Email communication

Improved communication results in improved relationships and efficiencies.

  • Brazilians prefer face-to-face meetings to written communication as it allows them to know the person with whom they are doing business.
  • The individual they deal with is more important than the company.
  • Be courteous and do not openly criticize – particularly in a group situation as this will cause offence.
  • Communication is often informal and does not rely on strict rules of protocol.
  • Anyone in the meeting can comfortably contribute to discussions.
  • It is not frowned upon to interrupt someone when they are speaking as long as it is within context of the discussion and not to overtly disagree or criticise.
  • Demonstrating an interest in Brazilian history, literature, and music can be useful.


2. Hierarchy and Status

Participants on any Brazil cultural awareness training programme need to gain an understanding of how hierarchical thinking impacts on business relationships in Brazil and how it can have a significant affect on disparate tactical areas, such as information flow, decision-making, email communication and project implementation. Participants also need to be aware of the influence of hierarchical thinking on some key strategic aspects, such as aligning your global corporate structures with the structure of a Brazilian subsidiary, the practical roll-out of new global policies and compliance challenges.

A good deal of time needs to spent exploring these issues during any training programme where the purpose is to help people navigate their way around Brazil.

In Brazil business practices differ by region as well as by the size and structure of different firms.

  • São Paulo is more international and this can be seen in the management style of its companies. However, there are still quite a few family-owned businesses, which adopt an organizational style that is more hierarchical and patriarchal.
  • Rio de Janeiro is more relaxed and traditional than São Paulo, something that might be explained by the beach culture combined with aristocratic traditions lingering from the time when it was Brazil’s capital.
  • As a generalization, the further north you go, the more conservative and hierarchical the business mentality will be.
  • Most foreigners work for international companies in large metropolitan areas. Regardless of where they are they will follow global management style, slightly colored by local influences.
  • Vertical hierarchy is built into company structure and management style, with work-related problems being solved by superiors.
  • Important decisions tend to be made by senior members of staff and then implemented by the rest. A team is normally bound together by a strong leader, chosen by seniority and experience.
  • Giving orders is an important part of a team meeting. However, leaders are expected to take care of their subordinates and consider the view of key managers before making a decision.


3. Women at work

  • In the major cities the attitude to women in the workplace is very different from that of the more conservative interior of Brazil.
  • Whether it is caused by the economic need for women to work outside the home, or by a desire for change in social status, the fact is that Brazilian women are increasingly joining the workforce.
  • Many have college degrees and even outnumber men in areas such as education, journalism, law, and medicine.
  • They own small companies, and sometimes inherit their father’s family businesses.
  • They do well in politics, too.
  • Although, in terms of comparative salary, women are still discriminated against, and there are a few conservative people who prefer to negotiate with men, foreign women should not have any problem in the Brazilian business scene.


4. Meeting

  • The way Brazilians do business is through personal connections. They like to deal with people they know, either directly or to whom they have been introduced by someone they respect. If possible, an introduction from a mutual acquaintance is just the ticket for a successful start.
  • Appointments should be made at least two weeks in advance, and confirmed two days before. “Dropping in” on business or government offices without an appointment is totally unacceptable.
  • Business trips and appointments should be scheduled away from holidays and festivals -particularly Carnaval.
  • Meetings might be lengthy and the traffic between offices can take a good bite out of one’s time. It is therefore sensible to allow two to three hours for each meeting and not to schedule more than two or three appointments a day.
  • Expect them to be cancelled or rescheduled at short notice. It is very rare for important deals to be done over the phone or by mail.
  • In some regions people are casual about punctuality. This is not the case in parts of Rio and São Paulo, where meetings normally start on time. Either way, when scheduling and arriving for a meeting, it is wise to be prepared for some degree of tardiness and not to show annoyance with it.
  • Furthermore, while senior executives and managers may arrive late, foreign visitors are always expected to arrive on time.
  • While the British start with small talk and North Americans go straight to the point, Brazilians do a little socializing beforehand. It tends to happen around the drinking of cafezinho (as you arrive and before you leave) and is a mixture of small talk and a little investigation, when the visitor can be casually asked about their background, interests, mutual acquaintances, or anything that will help the Brazilian businessperson get a feel for whom they are dealing with.
  • An exception may be São Paulo, where the “time is money” mentality applies. There, introductory conversation tends to last just a few minutes before business starts in earnest.
  • Do not think that establishing a personal relationship is not important to ‘Paulistas’. This will take place during business lunches and entertaining, once they are interested in the deal.
  • In companies used to interacting with foreigners the meeting might be conducted in English. In this case, foreign visitors should remember to speak more slowly and use shorter sentences, making sure they are being perfectly understood.
  • In some situations, an interpreter may also be present. In this case, remember to direct the conversation and look at the Brazilian businessperson instead of the interpreter. In any case, learning a few words and expressions in Portuguese will help break the ice and show you are making an effort.
  • Brazilians look straight into the eyes of the person they are talking to. Although that may feel intrusive to some visitors, it is important not to shy away, lest you give the impression of having something to hide.
  • Confirm the meeting in writing. It is not uncommon for appointments to be cancelled or changed at the last minute.
  • Meetings are generally rather informal.
  • Avoid confrontations. Do not appear frustrated with your Brazilian colleagues.
  • Brazilians tend to avoid direct confrontation and prefer a more indirect way of demonstrating disagreement.


5. Brazil cultural awareness training

A Brazil cultural awareness training (or a series of interventions aimed at different areas of the business) can have a massively positive impact on your business performance if done well; it can also possibly have a negative impact if delivered in a way which alienates the audience and doesn’t focus on key commercial issues. The skill of delivering a good programme is in being able to relate the generic Brazil cultural points to the strategic and tactical objectives of the business – if these links are not made, the training might prove pointless.

If you would like to discuss how Global Business Culture could develop and deliver meaningful training programmes for you, please contact us.

About the author

Management Culture in Brazil