Portuguese Business Etiquette
By all means not a guide which stereotypes the Portuguese people or is written in stone, these tips are more so an opportunity to provide you with greater cultural awareness and understanding of what the ‘norms’ are in Portuguese when it comes to doing business. Remember to always respect the culture, values and traditions of your prospective clients.
The concept of time is less strictly followed as perhaps in other countries, therefore do not be surprised for meetings to be delayed or for your client to arrive late. The approach to time is much more relaxed in Portugal than in other countries and your client could be 15 to 30 minutes late. The reasoning behind making a person wait is that in waiting you demonstrate to that person you value them and are willing to wait. You, as the client, will be expected to arrive on time, though up to 5 minutes late is acceptable. If you are aware of this concept then it will be much easier for you to set your negotiations off on a good note.
Upon arrival to your meeting it is customary to shake hands with everyone present and again upon leaving. In Portugal, business is highly focused on a relationship-orientated process. Trust, humanity and clarity are vital to successful business negotiations.
Names and titles are important factors to remember when meeting your prospective client. Always adhere to their title and refer to them as ‘Senhor’ or ‘Senhora’ followed by their surname. Do not use a client’s first name unless you are invited to do so.
You can expect significant respect if you have a title as there is a strong emphasis on hierarchy and status in Portugal. Make sure that your titles and qualifications appear on your business card and that you have a Portuguese and English version, which you present to your client with the Portuguese side facing upwards.
Business meetings in Portugal will devote a considerable amount of time to small talk and general conversation. These areas are seen as vital to creating trust and a strong business relationship. You must oblige with such conversations if you wish to be successful in your negotiations! Remember, if someone in your team is replaced, you will have to begin the process of building your relationship all over again so try and avoid this at all circumstances.
Once you have established a good relationship your prospective client will give the go ahead to start discussing business matters. It is not your position to state when this will begin and it will be seen as disrespectful if you do. For this reason, you must be patient and accept that this is the way business is done.
When presenting your documentation about your product or company, you must make sure that you have it in both English and Portuguese if you wish for negotiations to progress successfully. You may require the services of a Portuguese interpreter.
In most businesses and industries, decisions that are announced during the meeting will have already been decided upon prior to the meeting. Similarly, any decisions which need to be made during the meeting will not be announced then but will be made afterwards. If you are aware that negotiations may take longer than what you are used to then the process will be a lot more straightforward for you.
Discussions during meetings tend to be more instructional and individually based, as opposed to the teamwork type approach which is common in the UK and USA.
Unlike other Latin based cultures, in Portugal a cool and calm approach is preferred to shouting or losing one’s temper as these are seen as a sign of weakness. The meeting may be interrupted.
When negotiating with most businesses, try and get written confirmation of what you decided. Unless the information is written down the decision may not be fulfilled.
Businesswomen can expect to be treated fairly and with respect. Do not expect to pay for a business meal, although this is still seen as a tradition whereby the man pays not the woman.
Business lunches or dinners are acceptable as part of building a business relationship. Lunch and dinner invites are the most common and most of these occasions can last up to three hours. However, do not expect to discuss business during your meeting as this is seen as a social occasion and an opportunity to cement a good working relationship by getting to know one and other.
When offered a drink by your prospective business client, accept. Start eating when your host says “bom apetite.” Your napkin should be kept to your left and not put on your lap.
When finishing your meal, it is considered good etiquette to leave a little on your plate to demonstrate that you are full.
If a businesswoman invites a business man to lunch, then more than likely the man will want to pay. If a businesswoman invites a businessman to dinner then she should ask him if he would like to bring his wife.
Appearances are important in Portugal and nowhere more so than in a business environment. Attire is seen as a sign of social status so is highly regarded. Therefore, as a prospective business client you should respect this expectation.
It is important to maintain a formal dress code for business meetings. Men should wear suits and tie and women should wear business smart suits with a skirt.
Generally, the initial business meeting will not require the exchanging of gifts. However, when negotiations have been completed and the seal has been made a small gift can be appropriate.
At Christmas time, it is customary to send small Christmas gifts to clients, whether pens, crystal, diaries or a gift that is related to the business.
If your client invites you to their house then it is customary to bring a small gift. Expensive chocolates and flowers will be received for the hostess and wine for the host. Never give lilies, chrysanthemums (represents death), 13 flowers (unlucky) or red flowers as it is the symbol of the revolution.
Planning your business meeting:
In order to organise your meeting, it is advisable to have a contact who knows your prospective client so that they can provide you with an introduction. The reason for this is that the Portuguese prefer to do business with someone they can trust and word of mouth from someone they know, will go a long way. You should arrange your appointment in writing and confirm it a couple of days before.
Many Portuguese businesses and industries have a highly hierarchical structure as a result of state and family owned consortiums having held the market share of the economy in the past. Businesses in the main will therefore be centralised, highly hierarchical, with key figures and an emphasis on respecting age and position. When planning your meeting, it is recommended that you fully understanding the ins and outs of the organisation you are looking to work with as well as knowing exactly who the individuals you need to be working with are. Remember procedures within business meetings are very formal and you must respect these conventions.
Most businesses and industries follow a 9 am to 6 pm working day. When scheduling your meeting be aware that ‘in the afternoon’ in Portugal can mean anything from between 1 pm to 6 pm, so make sure that you specify the exact time you wish to meet for it to be clear for both parties.
August is generally the time when most people take time off for annual leave so this can be a very difficult to time to schedule a business meeting. The same case applies to public holidays, Christmas and the New Year.
Don’t let it happen to you!
On one occasion a business deal fell through. Why? The client failed to spend the time getting to know their prospective client and jumped straight into business negotiations, they turned up late and did not respect their clients with the correct greetings or dress. This was not seen in good light and as a lack of respect towards the prospective client and the deal fell through.
Always be respectful of your prospective business partner’s culture and traditions. Here at Lingua Translations, we offer cross-cultural training to ensure that your business dealings are not ruined by an inadequate knowledge of your target culture. Contact us now to find out more!