Before you attend a business meeting, it is recommended to have a general understanding of Portugal’s cultural background. The culture colours all areas of life and business encounters are no exception. During your stay in the country, you may notice that there are substantial differences between regions.
Adjusting to a particular setting is therefore important. However, bearing in mind that the Portuguese are generally aware of other cultures, any minor ‘infringements’ from the norm will surely be tolerated.
Be prepared for negotiations with your Portuguese counterparts to be time consuming Finalizing meetings with unclear statements but with the feeling of a job “well done” is quite common. Afterwards, contracts are exchanged and if there are any problems then these will be ironed out between the parties. Long business lunches in traditional restaurants are normal parts of Portuguese business culture.
Do not take any statements for granted until the final contract has been written and signed. Any verbal or written statements are generally not given the same importance as in, for instance, the UK or Germany.
The key to successful negotiations with your Portuguese counterparts is to respect their culture and values, however, at the same time clearly assert, in a polite way, what your conditions are. The key is reaching a mutual agreement.
Importance of Business Meeting
In general, Portuguese associates are keen to discuss potential business with foreign counterparts. Companies from abroad are seen as more modern and innovative, bringing valued experience and expertise to the Portuguese environment.
On the other hand, like in many other country’s business environment, in the beginning it is not always easy to get to the people with the appropriate status for negotiating business.
Portuguese business is hierarchical and the highest-ranking person makes the decisions. The initial challenge is often to deal with secretaries who try to filter visitors to some highly positioned executives.
Building a network of business associates is vital for success. Generally, expect to invest a significant amount of time developing the relationship. The Portuguese usually prefer face-to-face meetings than written or telephone communication, which are seen as impersonal.
Business relationships are built with people not companies. Thus, if a company decides to change its representative, the process of building the mutual trust that may have taken several years will have to begin all over again.
Business Meeting planning
Your first correspondence with a new Portuguese counterpart should be written in Portuguese. Ideally, appointments should be made about one or two weeks in advanceand confirmed a few days before. When scheduling the appointment, you should avoid the vacation period in August and the week between Christmas and New Year.
The best times of day for arranging a business meeting are 11 AM or 4 PM. Early mornings are not recommended as local people need some time to get going. Appointments later then 6 PM are not viewed favourably since this is the time that should be devoted to the family.
As the majority of Portuguese executives are men, it is advisable for foreign companies to send male delegates to negotiations in Portugal. This situation is constantly improving though and you can now find women company executives, directors and managers who are paid as much as their male counterparts.
Women with a minimum level of education do still get paid less than men however, but this is more due to the type of job role they hold which tends to be administrative. While it is not common to come across much overtly sexist behaviour, women do still have the harder time when it comes to fighting for equality in the workplace.
For meetings you should arrive either on time or with a ‘polite’ five minutes delay. If you are kept waiting, do not appear irritated, unless you have been kept waiting for more than 30 minutes.
During negotiations general rules of politeness apply. In particular, it is important to treat business colleagues with respect and not do anything to embarrass them.
As relationships are of vital importance in the Portuguese culture, a deal may well be rooted more in an emotional and personal consideration than a purely financial one. Keep in mind that for the Portuguese it is much easier to reach an agreement with a friend than with an opponent.
When in negotiation, it is useful to bear in mind the following general characteristics of the Portuguese. Although honest, the Portuguese do not tend to share information, unless they are explicitly asked to do so particularly if it is to their advantage to withhold it.
Secrecy is an integral part of Portuguese negotiation tactics. The Portuguese often feel that opening up would expose their weaknesses. It may also be somewhat difficult to find out their honest opinions since direct criticism is not appreciated in Portuguese culture.
It may be wise to maintain eye contact and look for clues in the body language of your Portuguese associates. As they are generally more relaxed than, for instance, north European nations, be prepared that the meeting may be interrupted or suddenly postponed to another date.
Furthermore, it can be expected that your Portuguese associates will focus on short-term gains, rather than long-term strategic benefits.
Any presentations should be well prepared, thoroughly researched and backed up with charts and figures. Also it is advisable to have all materials available in both English and Portuguese. Be prepared for the fact that a final decision will not be made until several negotiation meetings have taken place.
Business is conducted slowly. You must not appear impatient. Do not use high-pressure sales tactics (these do not work at all), and the Portuguese are offended by aggressive behavior. As stated above, the golden rule is not to consider anything said in a meeting as final or absolute.
Contracts, oral or written, do not have much significance. Be prepared for renegotiations of points that were already agreed upon: an agreement is reached only when the contract is signed.
Negotiating in Portugal
The first action should be to shake hands. At the end of a meeting partners will exchange their business cards, never at the beginning.
Ensure you maintain direct eye contact when talking to your Portuguese counterparts.
You will probably be offered coffee (espresso) and water. After the greeting, it is polite to devote some time to an informal conversation before you proceed to the business agenda. The weather is considered an appropriate topic for small talk and Portuguese business partners usually get carried away with football, food, the economy, politics and fashion.
The weather is a good standby as when it is warm the Portuguese do not like to work in suits and when it is cold they complain about it and their mood is low!
Initial meetings are usually conducted in a formal way. As both partners get to know each other, the nature of meetings becomes more personal and relaxed. Then it is acceptable, for instance, to greet each other with a hug and a handshake and women to kiss each other twice on the cheek starting with the right.
How to Run a Business Meeting
When running a meeting with Portuguese counterparts, it is most important to ensure that the event has been properly planned and prepared. The Portuguese often do not put much emphasis on the preparation part and as a consequence, meetings can be confusing and inconclusive.
Ensure that appropriate documents are prepared for the meeting and any necessary facilities provided. Bear in mind that dialogue constitutes the most important element of the business encounter and closure will usually take time and patience.
It is highly recommended to make good notes during the meeting and offer to do the minutes, if there are any. Although writing up minutes is not common in traditional business meetings, you can insist on doing them in order to ensure that the agreed points will be followed and any actions completed as agreed.
The golden rule is to sum up at the end of the meeting what the salient points are and to conclude what actions need to be taken and by whom before the next meeting. Ensure that everyone’s commitments are clearly stated. Furthermore, you can send a reminder of those commitments shortly before the next meeting.
Follow up letter after meeting with client
It’s not unusual to find that Portuguese partners don’t respect deadlines because they have a different attitude towards time and deadlines are not so crucial as they are to people from other countries.
In order to ensure that business meetings with your Portuguese counterparts will be as effective as possible, is it advisable to do the following: after the meeting, circulate the minutes. In particular, point out the main areas that were agreed on and specify the commitments of each participant. Ensure that the deadline dates for each action are clearly communicated and acknowledged by the other party.
Shortly after your meeting, it is appropriate to telephone your Portuguese counterparts to confirm that points are being followed through e-mail and then make an informal phone call letting them know that an e-mail was sent. This can also provide the right opportunity to double check the next meeting date and venue.
The Portuguese associates will appreciate a telephone call, and the opportunity to speak briefly with you before the next face-to-face meeting will appeal to their need for affiliation. You could also invite your partners out for drinks in order to get to know them better and further cement your growing business relationship.
Lunches and dinners represent a suitable opportunity to deepen a relationship and discuss business in an informal way. Breakfast meetings are still unusual in Portugal since in the morning Portuguese people are generally only warming up for the day’s work.
Lunch however, is a key opportunity for business activity. Dinner is more social and intimate than lunch. Normally, lunchtime is between 1 PM and 3 PM and dinner between 8 PM and 10 PM.
It is normal practice that your Portuguese counterparts will pay the bill. If you decide to pay, make it clear at the very beginning that you are inviting your host and ensure the waiter brings the bill to you since he/she may assume that it will be the Portuguese associates who will want to pay. Portuguese people don’t usually divide bills.
Charges for services are not included in the bill and a tip is usually about 10 per cent. When you are just going out for few drinks with friends, the bill is paid by “round”, when having drinks with business colleagues, each partner will pay for their own drink: they don’t share the bill.
Table manners in Portugal are formal, similar to other countries in continental Europe. It is polite to stay standing until invited to sit down at the table and not to start eating until the host says ‘bom apetite’. It is not acceptable to rest your elbows on the table while eating.
Portuguese cuisine is generally very good: cooked fish, fresh and tasty, is a traditional food in many areas. Also popular is a dish based on salted cod that can be cooked in many ways. Other types of meat, such as beef, pork, chicken, lamb are also widely available.
Wine, particularly red, is a typical Portuguese drink and people are very proud of it. Please note that Port wine is not red wine, but is considered a spirit. Red wine is the flagship of a Portuguese table and is not consumed with fish or seafood. The selection of Portuguese wines is large and it is advisable to ask the waiter for assistance with your selection. Portuguese coffee is also excellent and of superb quality.
Typically, it is served as an espresso. Only older generations drink black coffee, at home. Milk is usual at breakfast, but as mentioned, a coffee is usually a single espresso.
In Portugal it is not unusual for you to be invited to your business partner’s home for dinner. You will probably be asked to arrive around 8PM, Make sure you arrive with a polite 5 or 10 minutes delay, never on time. If it is the first time that you are invited to somebody’s house, be it for coffee or food, it is necessary to bring a small gift for the hosts (for example wine).
Business Meeting tips
Under no circumstances should you ever shout or lose your temper since this will simply diminish your credibility.
The Portuguese have an instinctive wish to please. Thus it is essential to insist on specifics. Very often the information given by the Portuguese is rather vague in order to mask shortcomings.
Never write anything in red ink since this is considered offensive: use black or blue only. You should respect people in senior positions and be formal in your written communications. When you have to turn your back towards someone, apologise first.
Although smoking is largely widespread in Portugal, ask before lighting up as some workplaces operate non-smoking policies.
The expressions ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ are very used often and they are also associated with adverbs or adjectives such as “Muito obrigado” thank you very much”.
When in a meeting, it is not acceptable to sprawl or put your feet on the furniture. A good posture should be maintained at all times but it is OK to cross your legs.
If your Portuguese business partner needs further information, for example clarification during a presentation, they will usually not interrupt you,waiting until you have finished speaking. You are quite safe using hand gestures and animated body language while speaking and making your presentation in Portugal.
- Overview of smoke-free legislation in the EU: http://ec.europa.eu/health/tobacco/docs/tobacco_overview2011_en.pdf
- Business Etiquette: http://www.kwintessential.co.uk/resources/global-etiquette/portugal.html
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