Cultural Clues and Communication Guidelines for PORTUGAL

When doing business in Portugal, conversation is somewhat informal, however still more formal than in the US when first meeting. It’s best to begin more formal, and then adapt to a more casual style as the relationship develops.

You can assume that most Portuguese business contacts will speak some English. They will also typically understand Spanish however Spanish speakers won’t necessarily understand Portuguese, because the pronunciation is especially difficult.

It’s typical to shake hands when greeting, and on a first meeting to exchange business cards. There may be more touching of arms or hands during handshake introductions than in northern European or the US cultures.

Developing good personal relationships is very important in business and will often be at least as significant a factor as the product or service you are offering.

People stand closer in conversation than in North America or Northern Europe and maintain good eye contact.

In general, the Portuguese are relaxed about etiquette and public behavior, however it is considered impolite to stretch in public. Being polite and well behaved is what really matters.

Do not launch straight into the business at hand. Allow some time for small talk about business in general, about soccer, about the weather, or about your personal life and family.

If you want to get to know your business partners better, invite them for a cup of coffee, lunch, or dinner. This should be a time to socialize, so don’t bring up business unless they do first.

The Portuguese are rather reserved and prefer to avoid confrontation or verbal directness. You may find it difficult to get definite answers to all your questions. Try to get information by analyzing the statements being made.

Meetings tend to run long, and do not necessarily keep to an agenda or timetable. Gently focus the discussion or bring it to closure but allow plenty of room for people to say what they have to say.

Never shout or lose your temper–it doesn’t work and ends up putting you in a weaker position.

The Portuguese have an instinct to please which also produces a tendency to say what they think you want to hear. Make sure you get specifics and quantification.

For negotiations, the key is patience and a willingness to educate your business partners about your way of doing things. The ‘carrot’ is generally more effective than the ‘stick’.

Overall, there is a willingness to be flexible and to learn. There is respect and admiration for more advanced methods and economies. You will find that there is considerable creativity and drive to resolve problems and adaptation to circumstances.

Status is important to the Portuguese. The use of academic titles and distinctions are very common. Job title and rank are less significant, although it is important to know the business hierarchy and who really makes the decision.

Consensus and a ‘win-win’ attitude is typically the underlying philosophy. The Portuguese are uncomfortable with explicitly competitive positions.

Teamwork may be weaker than in some cultures because the Portuguese don’t like challenging authority. They also tend first to analyze their personal interest in an action or deal, so understanding ‘hidden agendas’ is an important skill.

The most important environmental factor is the bureaucracy and weak justice system. Labor laws are very tough, and there is a culture of state involvement in business and collectivist policies.

Portuguese business people are expert at dealing with a last minute crisis. There is always someone around who will fix it or find a creative way through. Sometimes, the solution may not be completely adequate–but a solution will be found.

Make sure you clarify specific and realistic deadlines and performance measures. ‘Tomorrow’ and ‘next week’ are relative terms in Portuguese. You’ll have to confirm that the deadlines are on track before you find that they have come and gone.

It’s necessary to have all agreements and commitments in writing, even if only an e-mail confirmation. Avoid writing anything in red ink, even small notes, because only school teachers correcting work are ‘allowed’ to write in red–otherwise it’s considered offensive.

5 Key Conversation or Cultural Gesture Tips

  • Soccer is a favorite topic of most all Portuguese
  • Food and wine, especially Portuguese wine
  • Family, your home, and children
  • Culture, music, and literature
  • Travel, history, and architecture

5 Key Conversation or Cultural Gesture Taboos

  • Religion, and all the usual controversial subjects
  • Politics in general
  • Personal finances, salary, career positions etc.
  • Personal compliments early in the relationship
  • Sports, other than soccer, may not be well recognized by some Portuguese

Bon Voyage!

Join us in the future for Do’s and Taboos for PORTUGAL!

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