Portuguese business culture is characterised by a distinct relationship-based tradition. Over centuries, the family has remained the foundation of the country’s social order. Family members help and support each other, to a degree that loyalty towards the family actually comes before loyalty towards business.
A strong patriarchate and the distinct influence of the Roman Catholic church, did not only affect the peoples’ private lives but also shaped the hierarchical structure of many Portuguese enterprises and organisations, where age and seniority are respected.
From a manager, staff expect leadership and guidance. Independent decision-making is highly uncommon. Usually every staff member is given a distinct role. Furthermore, direct criticism is generally not appreciated, even in cases where it might seem justifiable.
The Portuguese are known to be very thorough and to have an eye for detail, which makes them careful and considerate planners. Long-term as well as short-term influences and developments are taken into account, while establishing long-term relationships with clients, suppliers, partners, etc. is among most business peoples’ primary objectives. Compared to some Northern European countries, the tolerance for change and unconventional solutions in Portugal appears more limited.
Getting down to business takes time. Especially at initial meetings, the Portuguese are interested to get to know one another – so try not to rush things!
Meetings are not about reaching consensus, but rather a forum to voice one’s opinion. With only a few exceptions there is no formal protocol during a meeting; everyone is entitled to comment. Agendas are merely used to introduce or raise a topic, yet they do not serve the purpose of a schedule.
In Portugal it is common to establish a personal relationship with your business partners. People prefer to work with someone they know well, whom they respect and whom they trust. Hence, face-to-face meetings are clearly preferred over conference calls and emails.
In contrast to their neighbours on the Iberian Peninsula, the Spanish, people in Portugal use less gesticulation when talking. During negotiations, they always remain calm and avoid overly emotional outbursts.
Due to the hierarchical structure of most companies almost all relevant decisions are made at the top of an organisation and behind closed doors. Consultation with lower-ranking staff is perceived as a waste of time. The decision-making process usually requires several meetings and different phases of consideration. Do not expect definite results instantaneously.
When it comes to deadlines, the people in Portugal have adopted a more or less relaxed attitude. Despite the fact that punctuality does not seem to matter much in a business or social context, the Portuguese, however, seem to expect foreigners to be punctual.
Office hours are from 8.30/9.00 a.m. to 6.00 p.m., Monday to Friday. Some businesses are open on Saturdays from 9.30 a.m. to 12.30 p.m.
Appointments should be made about two weeks in advance, and it is advisable to re-confirm them a couple of days prior to the meeting.
Refrain from scheduling appointments during the month of August, as this is commonly a period of vacation in Portugal. Equally impractical in terms of planning a meeting are the days before and between Christmas and New Year.
Meeting and greeting
Courtesy and politeness are rather important in Portuguese society. Particularly the elderly, but also people in high positions are treated with the utmost respect.
When meeting for the first time one stays reserved and formal. A firm handshake is appropriate. Say your name clearly and maintain eye contact. Once one is better acquainted, men commonly shake hands and offer a friendly pat on the back, while women give two kisses on the cheeks.
When it comes to dressing for work, Portuguese are known to appreciate fashionable elegance. Being conscious of brands and accessories, people feel that clothing reflects status and success.
Wining and dining
Long lunches and restaurant dinners are part of the typical working day in Portugal. But be careful to distinguish between social and business situations – as in a social context it is not customary to discuss business matters, unless the host raises the subject.
When invited to a colleague’s or business partner’s house for dinner, don’t forget to bring a gift for the host and/or hostess. Typical gifts are flowers, chocolates or candy. Be careful: Bringing wine requires some expertise! It is handy to know which kind of wine your host prefers rather than just picking anything at random.
Use of business cards
Business cards are widely used and exchanged frequently. There is no protocol involved in giving your card to someone.
A typical card mentions a person’s name, academic title and job position.
This information is based on the Looking for work in Portugal guide (ISBN 978-90-5896-079-5), written by Expertise in Labour Mobility. This one-pager is one step to making your international career aspirations become reality. The full Looking for work in Portugal guide tells you everything you need to know. If you want to order or find out more about our services, have a look at www.labourmobility.com.
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