In Brazilian business culture, personal relationships are one of the most important elements. They are the key to success. It is the individual person with whom Brazilians do business and not the company. Usually business will not take place until a relationship with the business counterpart is established. Try not to be impatient as this might take a while. Also while still negotiating do not exchange the negotiating team as this might interrupt the whole business process and you risk having to start all over again.
When working with Brazilians you will notice that there is a high tendency of mixing professional and social relationships. Your colleagues will appreciate you more for your friendliness than for your professionality. Yet the borderline between too friendly and too professional is quite fragile and you will have to learn to deal with it.
Before the business meeting
Before meeting up for a business dinner or a general business meeting, it is highly recommended to learn some Portuguese phrases. Even if you cannot communicate in this language properly, your effort will be highly appreciated.
Although Brazilians often schedule or cancel a meeting on short notice, business appointments have to be set up 2-3 weeks in advance.
Men should wear dark coloured business suits. Light colours are acceptable for summer (note that summer months in Brazil are from December to February). Three-piece suits usually carry an executive connotation whereas two-piece suits refer to office workers. It is very important for women to dress conservatively, in a suit or an elegant, feminine dress for instance. Opt for very natural makeup and make sure to have well-manicured nails as this is an important detail.
Business dinners in Brazil
It is acceptable in Brazil to arrive a few minutes late to the meeting. However, this usually does not apply to some regions, such as São Paulo or Brasilia. To be on the safe side always arrive on time, at least until you become more familiar with Brazilian business culture.
During introductions, men shake hands with each other, often for a long time, while maintaining steady eye contact. If there is a woman present, she has to reach out her hand first if she wishes to shake hands with a man. If the group is relatively small make sure to shake hands with everyone present.
Business dinners are often very informal and start with casual chatting. A very good conversation topic is soccer or family and children. Try to avoid topics such as politics, religion or current Brazilian issues. Never start business discussions before your Brazilian colleagues raise the subject!
Do not feel offended if you are interrupted as this is very common and acceptable in Brazil and indicates interest and enthusiasm. Also body contact, such as touching arms or backs is very common so do not step back or try to free your arm.
Further things to avoid
Brazilians tend to speak at a much closer distance to the communicating counterpart so do not move back if the distance is closer than what you are used to from your home country.
Brazilian business meetings often run very late so do not schedule two meetings one behind the other at it is seen as impolite to leave a meeting before anybody else does.
Do not, under any circumstances, criticize and embarrass a colleague in front of a group!
Business cards are usually exchanged during introductions and handed to everyone present. Therefore bring plenty of cards with you.
The cards should be printed in English on one side, with the name you prefer underlined, and Portuguese on the opposite side. When presenting your business card make sure the Portuguese side is facing the recipient.