“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” – St. Augustine
I arrogantly considered myself an internationalist, a citizen without borders or a truly global trotter… I thought I knew a lot about the world and different cultures.
When I was young, growing up in Brazil, I had many chances and sought opportunities to work and live with people from different backgrounds and customs. One of the things I learned during my journey in the United States is that you can only get to know a country and its culture when you live it!
No theory or guide compares to the experience of living “full time” in another country. I learned that only when we face adversity, and live in a diverse environment every day, we are able to really understand the culture of a country and even better, learn more about our own country and culture.
Few weeks ago I was challenged by one for my coworkers to write about the main differences between Americans and Brazilians when it comes to corporate culture. Since then I’ve been thinking a lot about that and I was surprised when I read a post in a blog of a good friend of mine, Berta Papp, from Hungary who is now leaving and working in Brazil.
Berta’s core background is in HR. She set up and maintains a blog with very useful and cutting edge information for foreigners who want to do business in Brazil or work in the country. In one of her posts she invited Simone Santos, Founder and President of OpenPath Solutions, a company coincidentally based in Atlanta. The goal of Simone’s company is to give guidance to businesses outside Brazil, who want to expand to Brazil.
So, instead of re-inventing the wheel, here are seven very smart and insightful ways Brazilians work differently than American according to Simone Santos.
“Who would have ever thought that there are different ways to work based on culture? After working for a large American corporation for almost ten years I have observed an array of differences between Brazilians and Americans when it comes to work. In the end, there is no right or wrong but there are things that simply won’t work in one country whereas it’s the norm in another. Here are my top 7 differences:
1- Brazilians do business with people; Americans with companies
It’s a fact, if you want to do business with Brazilians you need to devote time to know the person you are dealing with on a more personal level. Brazilians need to know and trust their business counterparts. If there is no connection or affinity the deal may be off. As a new business partnership develops a lot of time will be spent dining and having coffee.
Americans on the other hand don’t need to develop personal connections. As a matter of fact, they prefer not to. They always separate business from personal. To them, it’s about getting the work done, no matter what it takes. Now, when these two different cultures have to work together it can be a challenge. Americans may not understand why it takes Brazilians so long to do something and why sometimes they won’t even talk about business in a business meeting.
Brazilians on the other hand are offended by Americans’ cold demeanor and lack of personal attachment. The key here is to be able to understand and respect each side and try to find common ground.
2- Dress code in Brazil is an indicator of status and success
In Brazil you can tell if a person is at a managerial level by how they dress. The higher the occupation the more dressed up the person will be. For men this means wearing a suit with a vest if at an executive level. A lower level executive may wear a suit and a manager will wear a shirt and tie. Non-managers will adopt the business casual look (never jeans.)
For women, this may be a bit different since they have a lot more options in wardrobe. Women will wear tailored suits and dresses. Because of the tropical climate it may be common to see more cleavage that one would see in America. The key for men and women is to wear clothes made out of good material and many times made by famous designers. Again, denoting status.
In America, a lot of companies have adopted the business casual look which in many circumstances may mean wearing jeans and showing personality through clothing. A lot depends on the industry. In some big cities like New York it is more common to see men and women in suits but this is definitely not the norm for most companies.
3- Corporate Brazil is more hierarchical than the U.S.
Brazilians follow and respect hierarchy at work. Even though people work together and have closer relationships, employees don’t usually question their managers. There is a level of separation that is simply a part of the culture. Higher level executives don’t usually blend in with lower level employees and it’s still very common for employees to address executives as Mr. and Mrs. Higher level executives can also be called “doutor” or doctor even though they are not real doctors or don’t have a PhD.
In America, there is the so-called “open-door policy.” Of course this goes from company to company but the work environment tends to be less hierarchical. In some companies employees don’t even have titles. Again, the ultimate goal is to get the work done and title can get in the way. Companies who fall under a more corporate and not so laid back environment respect hierarchy but not to the extent you will see in Brazil.
4- Group work in Brazil involves everyone while in America the work is split
Working in group for Brazilians means working together from beginning to end. Everyone is involved in the entire process. No one makes any decisions without checking with the group. If there are three issues that need to be resolved, the entire group will work on issue #1 until that one is finished.
Only then will they move to issue #2. The sense of camaraderie is prevalent and the end result is a product of the group. In America, group work tends to be divided amongst the team members. If there are three issues that need to be resolved, they will likely be split, a deadline assigned and everyone comes together to give the final product its finishing touches.
5- Brazilians pay attention to etiquette and protocol; American are more casual and laid back
Etiquette in Brazil is extremely important and it denotes status and class. No matter the income level a person is expected to know how to eat properly and carry him/herself in a way that shows class. In business, this becomes even more important since a lot of the interactions are around a dining table. Not only that, the staff at restaurants and even at executives’ houses are trained to watch guests’ signals so they know when to serve, remove, or bring a new dish. If working with government officials, etiquette and protocol need to be studied and followed. This is definitely a more formal culture and you will be judged by how you behave (or misbehave.)
In America, things tend to be much less formal. Usually business lunches and dinners are much more casual. The expectation to behave a certain way is not as prevalent as it is in Brazil. At the highest level of the executive ranks, things can get more formal but there are no expectations to behave a certain way. Some business interactions will demand a French style service, but those are not as common.
6- Brazilians work to live; Americans live to work
Brazilians work hard, but family and life outside of work comes first. They appreciate and take all their vacation unlike a lot of Americans who don’t take all their paid time off in an entire year. Brazilians work to pay their bills and enjoy life. If it gets to a point that they feel there is no enjoyment, they will find something else.
Americans are defined by their work. Work is taken very serious and it’s common for employees to work at least 10hrs a day. When these two cultures work together there may be some challenges because Americans may take it as if Brazilians are not serious about their work. On the other hand, Brazilians feel Americans don’t respect their personal time. Again, common ground needs to be found.
7- The concept of time differs dramatically from one country to the other
The “time is money” concept does not apply in Brazil. Brazilians are very laid back when it comes to time. It’s not a disrespect towards other people but it’s simply how people are. Meetings can start late and run late. Business lunches or dinners may run 2-3 hours long.
Americans on the other hand are all about time and follow their schedule as closely as possible. A meeting starts with agenda items and all of them are covered in order. In Brazil, however, there may be an agenda but that may not be followed.
There you go! These are some of the differences I have noticed when working with Brazilians and Americans. There are a lot more but as I said earlier, there is no right or wrong. Different cultures approach business in a different way. In the end it’s a matter of understanding what the differences are and being mindful of how they can affect the relationship.”