By Louise Gjørtz Christensen, consultant at BrasilienKonsulenten
Brazil - Latin Americas leading economic power and a country with close to unlimited access to raw materials, minerals and natural resources. After a few years of crisis Brazil is finally heading towards a recovery. According to The International Monetary Fund’s predictions, the Brazilian economy is slowly growing and inflation is decreasing. An improved economy along with the country’s recent battle against systemic corruption, makes Brazil an interesting place to do business in the upcoming years. However, when doing business in Brazil, how does one avoid falling in the classic cultural traps? This blog entry outlines a few points to be aware of when doing business in Brazil.
How Brazilians will amaze you
“Oi tudo bem? Como cê tá”? says the Brazilian woman and embraces Anders with a kiss on both cheeks. For a moment, Anders believes he is being mugged (as he has heard is common in Brazil). However, the truth is less exiting. Anders, an employee from a Danish IT company, was merely greeted by his Brazilian business partner Mariana, upon arrival in Brazil.
Anyone who has been to Brazil probably agrees on the fact that Brazilians are some of the friendliest people they have ever meet. Brazilians kiss, talk loud and interact with a lot of gestures. Emotions are common at any place and at any time, reflected throughout society, as in soccer matches, in which, Brazilians can be seen crying whether they lost or won. Besides being very emotional (at least compared to Danes), Brazilians are also very bodily, not only by virtue of their greeting which includes kisses or hugs, but also in the way they touch their conversational partner several times during a conversation. According to a study performed by Nancy J. Adler, Brazilians touched each other and their guests close to 5 times in a 30 minutes’ conversation, in comparison with Americans and Japanese who didn’t touch each other at all.
If you are doing business in Brazil be prepared to talk louder than usual, interact using a lot of hand gestures and interrupt your business partner occasionally.
What you as a Dane would not associate with business
“So, are you catholic or what is your religion”? Anders, the Danish employee, is almost choking in his strong and sugary Brazilian coffee, when his Brazilian colleague Mariana casually asks about his religious beliefs in the meeting room. As a Dane, he immediately considers this question invasive and very inappropriate in business settings. However, his Brazilian colleague is merely making conversation.
Danes have a strict separation between work and private life, which is not the case in Brazil. Thus, Brazilians you have never met before will ask about family relations or religion – which can feel very invasive and restricted to the private sphere for a Dane. However, religion is a very important part of Brazilian society. In business settings, it is common to use phrases such as, “Se deus quiser”, roughly translated it means, “If god will”. A phrase which would probably frustrate a Dane trying to get a product delivered on time.
Additionally, when the Brazilian partner asks about her Danish colleague’s religious beliefs she is merely trying to build relations. Brazilians are much more focused on building relations than Danes. A good relationship is key to a successful task – because how can you make sure that your colleague holds up his/her end of the task, if you don’t know him/her personally? Well, in Denmark the key is trust. Danes have an enormously trust in one another. In an international survey from 2008-10 Denmark scores a 65% on citizens’ general trust to fellow citizens. This influences corporate life, as relationship building is less important, because Danes generally trust their colleagues. Not surprisingly, Brazil scores a merely 3%, a number which reflects the almost non-existence of trust to fellow citizens, including work colleagues.
Consequently, in business settings, Brazilians are very focused on building good relations with colleagues in order to perform a good job. Thus, when doing business in Brazil, going out at night is not uncommon with colleagues. However, it is important not to discuss business. Many Danes fall in the trap of “we can just keep discussing business here at the dinner”. Relations are built to build trust and to get to know each other and that includes NOT speaking about business. Because Brazilians are more focused on relationship building, they generally come off as open-minded and friendly to foreigners, which can mislead Danes to believe that Brazilian colleagues are close friends. You might even get invited to colleagues’ birthdays or other social events, however, take care not to misunderstand Brazilian openness in a business situation for friendship.
When doing business in Brazil, remember to maintain a flexible calendar and be prepared to be available for relationship building at any time. Brazilians find it very rude if you decline their offer to go out at night with a “I’m tired and it has been a long flight” (which in Denmark would be a totally reasonable explanation for declining an offer).
Leaving “The Jante Law” at home
“Nice to have a professional on the team”, says the Brazilian salesman Paulo and thumps the Danish employee, Anders, on the back. Anders, who is a trained IT engineer with more than 20 years of experience and is in Brazil to teach the sellers about the new product, humbly replies that he is okay and that they will make it work.
A Danish answer for “yes I am a professional”. In Denmark equality is key to a harmonious society, and is often referred to as the Jante Law, modesty, or something entirely else – but fact is that Danes like to downplay power and status in favour of a focus on equality. However, in hierarchical countries such as Brazil, by downplaying your status, you may come across as incompetent or simply not high ranking enough to do business with.
Power structures have an influence on what is considered good leadership skills. In 2016 The Times Magazine asked employees from different countries: “Should my boss have all the answers”? In Brazil 73% answered yes, whereas in Denmark this number was merely 11%. A study which reflects how Danish leaders often pursue the role of a coach, to guide their employees to find the right answer themselves.
Danes are raised with the egalitarian Folkeskole, influenced by Grundtvig’s critical thinking, which means, that both in work and schools settings Danes are expected to speak out opinions and take individual responsibility for assignments. As Brazil is more hierarchical, employees in a Brazilian company are generally used to being told what to do, and a Brazilian leader is expected to overlook and dictate assignments. Thus, in a Danish perspective, Brazilian employees often come across as non-autonomous or non-independent, the opposite of what is considered valuable in a Danish context. Likewise, in a Brazilian perspective, Danish leaders can come across as lacking leadership skills. To take individual responsibility and work independently, the risk of making a mistake is magnified, which is overall accepted by Danish companies. However, Brazilians are more risk-averse than Danes, as consequences of dismissal are more severe than for a Danish employee, due to the lack of a Brazilian all-embracing welfare system.
When doing business in Brazil remember to tone up your power, rather exaggerate than play down your status - If not you will get nothing through as Brazilians will perceive you as incompetent or not high ranking enough to do business with.
Want a personal advice on how to do business in Brazil or do you experience any challenges with your Brazilian colleagues? Contact us for a non-committal offer to tackle the specific obstacles you are facing.