Brazil-USA: Learning to Bridge Cultures

        Learning to Bridge Cultures

Brazilian and American executives are briefed on what
to expect from their counterparts in negotiations, the results
can be surprising. The key is to understand the differences.
Brazilians generally prefer to establish personal relationships
at the start while Americans prefer less initial "small talk."

Kim Hugget 


the very start it was apparent to negotiators for an American wine distribution
company that representatives of the Brazilian winery across the table
wanted far more than the United States company was willing to give.

Brazilians had tried to maneuver the distributors into buying their
wine at a higher price, in larger quantity and over a longer term than
the Americans could accept. They also wanted far more spent on promoting
their product in the United States.

what really surprised us was that they wanted to get down to business
right away," said American negotiator Atul Chadha, a senior manager
with IBM in San Jose, California. "We knew Brazilians like to establish
relationships before talking contract, but they knew that Americans
like to take care of business first."

knew the Americans had gotten a talk on the way Brazilians like to negotiate,"
said Sandro Marcelo Grof, a manager with the Brazilian textile firm,
TEKA. "So they seemed to want to take more time at the start. Our
side acted more like Americans. Our roles changed because we each knew
the other’s usual approach."

began to worry that if their side acted like Americans and we acted
like Brazilians, we wouldn’t get anything done," said Kim Smith,
business development manager for Hertz Corp. in Burlingame, California.

negotiations were actually part of an exercise designed by international
business professors from the Centro Universitário de Jaraguá
do Sul, known as UNERJ, and California State University, Hayward. Twenty-five
Cal State Hayward graduate students in the Transnational Executive MBA
program, known as TEMBA, met with a similar number of MBA students from
UNERJ for a Saturday morning session at the Parthenon Hotel in the city
of Jaraguá do Sul in southern Brazil.


you put that many Brazilian and American executives in a room and tell
them to negotiate a business contract, the last thing you might expect
is that each side would adopt the bargaining style of the other country,"
said Martin Desmaras, professor of international business at UNERJ.
"Brazilian and American negotiating styles can be quite different.
Each side can be so confident in its own approach that it doesn’t realize
there is a competitive advantage, as well as personal reward, in looking
at negotiations from the other side."

can happen when executives from different business cultures meet head-on
is that neither side is prepared for the other," said Shyam Kamath,
an international business professor and director of the Cal State Hayward
TEMBA program. "Each side can end up thinking that the other is
stalling, unfriendly, too aggressive, or not committed to the process."

and Kamath said that when Brazilian and American executives are briefed
on what to expect from their counterparts in negotiations, the results
can be surprising. The key, they said, is to understand the differences.
For example, Brazilians generally prefer to establish personal relationships
at the start of negotiations while Americans prefer less initial "small
talk." Profitability is often a priority for Americans in business
talks, while gains in power or status can be more important to Brazilians.

also tend to want negotiations at a faster pace," Desmaras said.
"And they like to take issues point by point. Brazilians prefer
to let business negotiations take time to develop and may not be so
focused on details early in the game.

also tend to consider a signed contract as something that can be revisited
and revised often. A contract in China is the beginning of a negotiation.
In America, a contract is binding once it is signed. In Brazil, it is
somewhere in between."

Tendencies in Negotiations

two professors arranged the mock bargaining sessions in December 2002
and May 2003, when TEMBA participants were in Jaraguá do Sul
to take classes on the Mercosur South American common market, cross-cultural
negotiations, and management taught by leading Brazilian professors.
The negotiation exercise was a required element.

beginning the negotiations, each side heard separate presentations from
Desmaras on negotiating tendencies prevalent in the business culture
of the other. Neither side knew the specifics in the others’ briefing.

Brazilians represented the fictional "Garibaldi Winery," which
was seeking an American partner in order to introduce its product into
the United States. The confidential briefings given to each team instructed
the negotiators to protect their own company’s assets while getting
the other side to take more of the risk.

was surprised at the Brazilian team we faced," said American negotiator
Nabil Al-Hussieni during the joint de-briefing held after the exercise
with all the participants. "We knew better than to push them into
a decision at the start, but they came in with their price offer right

is the transportation department manager for Office Depot in Santa Rosa,

we got into negotiating, we started with a higher price, the U.S. team
came in lower, and we totally disagreed," said Daniel Schultz Machado,
who works in the export division of Brazilian apparel manufacturer Cia.
Hering and has made several business trips to the United States. "But
our goals included expanding into the U.S. market and getting a long-term
partnership. We ended up reducing our margin and got the longer contract
we wanted.

even got agreement that both companies would put their names on the
wine label. We ended up building a relationship."

the time the team I was on was through with its negotiations we had
an agreement on price, volume and duration of the contract," said
TEMBA team member Claudia Halene, until recently a lead account manager
at Alom Technologies Corp. in Fremont, CA. "We agreed to talk about
issues such as co-branding and legal issues later. A handshake was good
enough at this point."

important thing I noted was that since the talks were in English, our
team was talking too fast and in sentences that were too long,"
said TEMBA negotiator Esma Erisen, until recently a senior sales engineer
and technical manager for Nortel Networks in Brentwood, CA. "This
gave our side an advantage, but it’s important that both sides understand
each other."

the teams took a brief break in the negotiations to discuss their positions
separately, Erisen urged her group to speak slower and in shorter sentences
when they rejoined the talks.

is important to keep in mind," Desmaras said. "Sometimes the
natural reaction if you believe you are not being understood is to just
talk louder."

the general wrap-up session after the event, Desmaras also warned the
Brazilian students to not misjudge the American propensity for self-criticism.

is one of the great American virtues," Desmaras said. "There
is a cultural tendency in Americans that you learn from your mistakes,
get up and move on. Their risk-taking is a consequence of their confidence,
and Brazilians should not take self-criticism as a sign of weakness,
especially in negotiations."

On A Global Scale

mock negotiations coincided with the visit to Brazil of United States
Treasury Secretary John Snow, who announced that America wants to proceed
rapidly with trade negotiations that could open the door for increased
imports of Brazilian agricultural products, such as orange juice and

are open for negotiations," Snow said during a factory visit to
São Paulo, the country’s financial and industrial center. "Everything
is on the table. So we’re anxious to get those discussions under way."

said the United States wants to form a Free Trade Area of the Americas
that would stretch from Alaska to Argentina, but Brazilian officials
said the trade obstacles for key agricultural products must be eased
first. There are political ramifications for President George Bush in
California and Florida, the nation’s top orange producers.

between these government trade ministers can follow many of the same
approaches the Brazilian and American students learned in their negotiations,
said Zinovy Radovilsky, an international business professor at Cal State
Hayward and a TEMBA faculty member who made the trip to Brazil.

understanding another country’s cultural approaches to doing business
is not the only consideration to make in conducting negotiations, it
certainly gives the negotiators a better chance for success," said
Radovilsky. "That’s why it is so valuable for executives to apply
what they’ve learned in exercises like this."

think there is potential for increasing partnerships between Brazilian
and American firms," Radovilsky said. "In Brazil, our students
visited companies where they saw modern manufacturing organizations,
where businesses are producing products of good quality, with high cost-efficiency
in clean manufacturing environments."

is on the faculty team that works with teams of TEMBA participants on
consulting projects with leading Brazilian firms in the region. During
their trip in May, TEMBA participants visited two of their clients who
have commissioned them for three projects.

a manufacturer of clothes for infants and children, has commissioned
a TEMBA team to help it enter the American market. Rohden, which exports
100 percent of the pine doors it manufactures, has commissioned two
TEMBA teams to investigate the potential and entry strategy for their
doors into the German and French markets.

visits and the consulting projects are required elements of the TEMBA
program. Participants must successfully apply the knowledge gained in
the program to their consulting projects and to the negotiation exercises.


more information on the TEMBA experience in Brazil, go to: 

the Cal State Hayward Web site on the Transnational Executive MBA
Program, go to: 


Huggett is director of public affairs for California State University,
Hayward and accompanied the TEMBA delegation on its recent trip
to Santa Catarina. He is a former reporter for The Sacramento
Union newspaper in California. He can be contacted at




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