Language, Government and Religion of Brazilians
Brazil is a Latin American country and its culture closely resembles that of its neighbors. Like many other ethnic communities, Brazilians have many folktales that explain the phenomena of the natural world. Some of the Brazilian folktales include: “the tale of the water lily, the creation of the night, and the tortoise and the stag” (Almeida, Portella and MacDonald 3). Brazilians speak Portuguese which is their official language in addition to other languages such as Spanish, Italian and Amerindian. Brazil is a “multiparty federal republic led by the president who is both the chief of state and the head of the government” (Gudykunst 327). Majority of Brazilians are Roman Catholics while the minority belongs to a wide range of other religions.
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Healthcare and Education Systems in Brazil
The healthcare system in Brazil is a universal system in which the Brazilians have the right to access medical services from both public and private organizations which are compensated by the government. The basic and preventive health services are chiefly provided by the government-run providers although the vast services are offered by the private sector. Like in the health sector, the federal government also has a great responsibility in the provision of education services. Nonetheless, the state governments also play a part in the education sector for instance by coming up with their own legislations.
Business in Brazil
Brazilians are more people-oriented and less task-oriented. They do not relate with others in an official or orderly manner. Their relationships with other people are interpersonal in nature and they hold human relations with high esteem. Any meeting between people held for the first time has to start by getting fully acquainted with each other in a comfortable and informal way. A lot of time and resources are spent on getting to know other people well both personally and professionally. Socializing is highly valued and normally takes place during extended lunch or mid morning breaks. Even in business meetings, informal discussions are common especially at the beginning.
They believe that close interpersonal relationships build trust and eliminate the chances of frustrations that can result from dealing with strangers. It is uncommon for important matters to be discussed via telephone, letters or email. Most Brazilian executives do not react positively to impromptu and infrequent visits by foreign sales representatives. They prefer to arrange a meeting a few days or weeks in advance. They are very casual about time and work. This means that punctuality is not strictly followed and instead it is considered good manners to report a few minutes late for an appointment.
Values of Brazilians
Brazilians also place high value on leisure especially those activities that involve other people. This is contrary to Americans who carry out business matters first and then engage in leisure later. Brazilians find this tendency of placing higher value on work and less on social relations to be rude and insulting. It is expected that embraces are exchanged after meeting a colleague for the second or consecutive times. Failure to give an embrace is considered insulting and may leave the Brazilian wondering what wrong he committed. As a rule, problems and subjects are addressed indirectly and tackled one at a time. Brazilians also love negotiating and presentations are made with keenness.
Communication in Brazil
Communication between Brazilians is often animated with interruptions made frequently. This shows that the people engaged in the conversation are enthusiastic about the topic of discussion. During conversations, a steady eye contact is always maintained between the speaker and the listener as a sign of genuine interest, concentration and honesty. Brazilians maintain a very short physical distance when talking to each other. Touching each other is very common while engaging in conversations. Brazilians also make judgments of other people based on their personal principles rather than on abstract things.
They indeed view an ambitious person as one who is more interested in achieving material goals than on establishing and maintaining healthy interpersonal relationships (Turner and Kleiner 75). Being a collectivist society, Brazil places a high value on the family and gives the family more attention than profit making. It is therefore common to find several members of one family involved in one business. The extended family structure of Brazilians offers security and networking opportunities to Brazilians.
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Non-Verbal Communication in Brazil
In addition to the acceptable and unacceptable topics of discussions, foreigners should also be aware of the non-verbal communication to use and avoid. The common hand gesture that is widely used to suggest that something is alright is perceived as rudeness in Brazil. Second, Brazilians pinch their earlobes with their thumb and fore fingers to portray gratitude for something good done to them. Third, tapping one’s fingertips below the chin shows that one does not have a reply to a query. Lastly, Brazilians use the fig gesture (putting the thumb in the midst of the index and middle fingers while creating a fist) to summon fortune (Turner and Kleiner 73).
Differences between the American and Brazilian Cultural Values
The Brazilian culture conflicts with the American culture in several ways. These differences are normally a great source of ethnocentrism, parochialism and misunderstanding between people from these two countries. Whereas the Brazilians are people-oriented, the Americans on the other hand are very task-oriented. They sacrifice their social relations for the sake of achieving a work-related goal. They avoid making idle conversations in meetings and instead focus the entire time talking about the business matter and nothing else. Americans also value preciseness and they hate it when someone beats around the bush for politeness’ sake.
They value a person who is straight to the point instead of one who wastes time on many words. They value clarity and do not care whether it comes out rudely or not. Failure to be clear and precise could be perceived as impoliteness and dishonesty. Honesty is the best policy in the U.S. Americans value honest people and therefore they hate bribes, kickbacks and other illegal payoffs. It is indeed easier in the U.S. to get ahead playing by the rules than by breaking them. In the American world, logic rules over emotion. Americans hate people who are unable to make cold and hard decisions for the sake of others’ feelings (O’Keefe and O’Keefe 615).
Respect for the senior managers is highly valued in the American culture because of the amount of time and resources the seniors have spent building the organization. Sometimes it is wise – and respectable – for the subordinates to avoid speaking to the senior managers at all unless they are addressed first. Women are equal partners in the American business world. It is therefore respectable to treat the female partners with equal dignity as the male partners.
Making inappropriate advances or suggestive remarks or actions should be avoided at all costs. While engaging in conversations with Americans, topics such as religion and politics should be avoided as they are sensitive topics and people have deep-rooted beliefs about them which cannot be changed. Americans enjoy topics such as wealth, sports, current events, business and market trends and entertainments. These are safe topics that any foreigner can talk with an American colleague comfortably (O’Keefe and O’Keefe 615).
Americans also value time and punctuality is a necessity to survive in the American business world. In fact, not arriving on the scheduled time could force an American counterpart to cancel the meeting altogether. On the other hand, Brazilians are flexible with time. They argue that arriving a few minutes later than the scheduled time would provide the host with ample time to prepare adequately for the meeting. The Americans also conduct their meetings within the scheduled time duration. If the meeting was to last one hour, it will last exactly one hour and not a minute earlier or later. On the other hand, the Brazilians are relaxed with the pace at which they conduct their business meetings. Due to their lack of sense of time, negotiations among Brazilians take longer than initially planned for.
The Brazilians find it tolerable to call off or suspend appointments at the last minute without a forewarning. This is different from the American world whereby any cancellation or postponement plans have to be communicated to the concerned parties days or weeks in advance. Brazilians value courteousness more than the Americans do. In Brazil, people use many words in trying to explain a point. If a person says something wrong, his colleague will not correct him in front of others.
Instead, he will discuss the issue with him privately. This prevents shaming and embarrassment of their colleagues. On the other hand, Americans value people who use few words to make a point. Rebuke is common in Americans’ conversations because they value preciseness more than saving faces. It is therefore common to hear the phrase, “get to the point” in American conversations (O’Keefe and O’Keefe 616).
Stereotypes and Prejudices about the Brazilians
The differences in the values, attributes and behaviors of the Brazilians and the Americans can create cultural blinders as well as stereotypical and ethnocentric thoughts that can either hurt or promote one’s effectiveness. It is indeed easy to arrive at generalized conclusions concerning other cultures especially if those cultures are not our own. This can happen on a large scale when, for instance, people make assumptions about a whole country or even a continent. Such references tend to imply that all people from different regions behave in a certain manner that can easily be identified due to their cultures.
Before the beginning of this project I often viewed the Brazilians as “not serious, lazy and unable to tackle difficult issues” due to Brazilians’ relaxed attitude towards time and their over-reliance on others for sound decisions. In addition, I used to stereotype Brazilians as “too friendly” because of the emphasis placed by Brazilians on interpersonal relationships even during business meetings (O’Keefe and O’Keefe 619). I have however come to realize that this emphasis on interpersonal relationships can actually promote a Brazilian’s effectiveness because strong interpersonal relationships are important for the successful accomplishment of business tasks, particularly those involving culturally diverse teams.
Wrong Preconceived Ideas about the Brazilians
Before the beginning of this project, I used to mainly view the Brazilians as a lazy sort. This is because Brazilians hardly ever make any decision independently but instead they have to consult with other members. This perception of Brazilians as lazy is wrong. This is because I have come to understand that the extensive consultation the Brazilians engage in is not because they cannot make decisions independently. Rather, it is because the Brazilians place high value on the feelings of others and their interpersonal relationships. Hence, consultations help to avoid any misunderstandings by ensuring that everyone agrees with the decision that has been made. In the process, this helps to further nurture interpersonal relationships.
Communicating with Employees from the Brazilian Culture
Given the cultural differences discussed above, it is important for any management of a culturally diverse organization to communicate effectively with employees from the Brazilian culture so as to avoid any misunderstandings. This can be done by fostering synergy in the organization. Synergy can be fostered in different ways. First, the management should promote interdependence between the managers and the employees by creating more opportunities through which they can work together to achieve mutually desired objectives. Second, the management should promote adaptation which requires both the managers and the employees to adapt to the different cultures and the changing working environment.
This would enable both the managers and the employees to be tolerable to each other’s differences. Third, the management should put in place different approaches to existing problems and goals by accommodating suggestions from employees irrespective of their cultural background. Most importantly, the management should put in place a feedback mechanism that informs the employees of their performance progress and areas of improvement. Creating a culturally synergistic organization however requires both the management and the employees to be culturally competent (Gudykunst 331).
Cultural competence ensures that people from different cultures are knowledgeable about their cultural differences, appreciate these differences and use them to build stronger teams. Because the aspect of time is one of the major cultural differences between Americans and Brazilians, and because time plays an important role in the American business world, American managers can foster synergy through time in several ways. First, both the American managers and the Brazilian employees need to sit down together and discuss their differences in the perceptions and utilization of time. This openness will minimize the possibility of one party having a misunderstanding towards the other party.
Once this has been done, both parties should develop norms for their time-related behaviors. In this manner, the aspect of time is made to be part and parcel of the negotiation process and may necessitate both parties to make acceptable adjustments to their perceptions so as to accommodate each other as long as it does not negatively affect the organization’s goals. It is however important to note that synergy cannot be fostered if one party expects the other party to make all the adjustments solely. Both parties should make the effort and should meet halfway.
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Most importantly, Brazilians value personal relationships more than material things and thus any communication should be done to promote interpersonal relationships. This can be done by having the employees do their work as teams rather than as individuals, and increasing opportunities that build teamwork and relationships, for instance, by organizing team building activities, group lunches and outings. In addition, the employees should be treated in a consistent manner, should be given feedback concerning their performance and should be involved in the decision-making process of the organization even if the final decision lies with the management. These strategies would promote the social relations among the employees and would motivate them to achieve the set goals.
Almeida, Livia, Ana Portella, and Margaret MacDonald. Brazilian folktales. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited, 2006.
Gudykunst, William. “Cultural variability in communication: an introduction.” Communication Research, 24 (1997): 327-348.
O’Keefe, Hsu, and William O’Keefe. “Business behaviors in Brazil and the U.S.A: Understanding the gaps.” International Journal of Social Economics, 31.5 (2004): 614.
Turner, Warren, and Brian Kleiner. “What managers must know to conduct business in Brazil.” Management Research News, 24.3 (2001): 72-75.