Good communication is a corner stone of all prosperous business relationships. In order to communicate with Portuguese business partners effectively and avoid any misunderstandings, that may have serious impacts on the success of business relationships, it is necessary to understand the underlying conventions concerning communication practices. The following section will provide you with recommendations on the type of contact that is appropriate and will also outline some basic rules for effective verbal and non-verbal communication with your Portuguese counterparts. Last but not least, the use of titles will also be mentioned as it represents quite an important area within Portuguese business culture.
Generally, conversations tend to be quite informal. Portuguese people are open and welcoming to strangers and are keen to discuss various topics. The golden rule for business people is to start in a rather formal manner and gradually proceed to a more casual mode of conversation . However, bear in mind that this can vary depending on the age, origin or status of the person involved. In the initial stage of an encounter, any personal compliments or personal questions should be avoided. Instead, it is advisable to compliment the country, people in general, food, wine or climate and discuss, for instance, your own family and home since the family is important in Portugal.
A sense of humour is also highly valued in Portuguese society, and , it is usually a good idea to use it in the early stages of a conversation. It is also acceptable to touch each other’s arms or hands during a conversation as Portugal is an affective culture. In general, the Portuguese do not use overly exaggerated hand gestures, but they are more demonstrative when greeting friends.
The Portuguese do not like verbal directness or confrontation. Thus it may be rather difficult to get to the point or to get an honest answer from them. In such cases, it is advisable to ask politely for a straightforward explanation. On the other hand, the majority of Portuguese are tolerant and it’s difficult to offend them. They are happy to deal with people from other cultures so it is not necessary to be overly concerned with the finer details of your behaviour but is more appropriate to focus on giving an positive overall impression.
You can assume that any business contacts will speak reasonable English. If your Portuguese partners do not, they will tell you, it is not unusual for business people to speak other foreign languages.
English is usually the preferred language for negotiations with foreign associates in Portugal. When speaking English it is essential to take care to speak slowly, clearly and without the use of slang or overly technical jargon .
As, naturally, the language competence of each individual may vary, it is advisable to check their language competence with each individual business contact. If there is a probability of issues with the language, it is advisable to ensure that interpreting facilities are available at the negotiations.
In Portugal, written contracts do not generally have the strength in business relationships that personal trust built over years of business association has. Mainly as a result of the bureaucracy and slow justice system, written contracts are often considered to be just pieces of paper. There are “Gentlemen’s agreements” based on trust that are as important as contracts). It is quite rude to put trust in doubt when forming business relationships with Portuguese companies. Should the system of justice get involved in resolving an industrial dispute, this usually takes about five to ten years.
If you do not know your counterparts very well, it is advisable to keep in mind that, as in any other business relationship, there is a possibility of being deceived. However, the business environment in Portugal is generally fair and honest. Nevertheless, it is advisable to constantly check that the other party is following the points that were agreed upon. If necessary, it is recommended to openly express any discontent and to point out that you really insist on the conditions agreed. This may help the other party to start to follow the rules.
A gentle and/or firm handshake, with a smile and enthusiasm, is a common way of greeting business associates. It is a matter of courtesy to shake hands with people on meeting, even if you have met them many times before. When greeting women at a first meeting you should use a gentle handshake, but a kiss on each cheek it is not unusual.
However, it is not easy to assess whether it is appropriate to kiss or shake a woman’s hand. The golden rule is to extend your hand and kiss only if the woman offers her cheek. A gentle hug on first greeting or departure is acceptable only for business partners who know each other well.
Generally, in Portugal physical contact is more common than in other Northern European countries. People stand closer to each other during conversation and maintain more eye contact. People normally put their hand on the upper arm of their colleagues and friends as they walk down the street as a gesture of warmth and trust. A grip of the arm or a hand on the shoulder is not uncommon between business associates.
A persons title is not usually asked for. Someone who has graduated in Portugal has the title of “Dr.” and in business you should address any individual as “Dr.” with their “last name”. If the individual has not graduated, he usually corrects you by saying “Mr.” and that is a good ice breaker, so always assume someone is a Dr until he or she tells you otherwise.
In Portugal it is normal for people to have several first or second names. Usually, the first in the list is the first name, the rest are family names. Generally, when addressing people, you are not expected to use their first name, unless you have been invited to do so. First names are usually used only by very good friends ( outside work, good friends are usually called by their nicknames). In many companies, even close and long term colleagues may still refer to each other quite formally.
Bear in mind that Portuguese people are very difficult to offend, thus when in doubt about using or pronouncing someone’s name, do not hesitate to ask your Portuguese associates for help .