- First impressions are vital in business as the persona you put forward initially can prevail in an Italian’s mind throughout a meeting. Keeping this in mind, make sure to present yourself neatly, stylishly and professionally in a conservative suit.
- Be punctual to give a good impression, but do not always expect your Italian counterpart to do the same as timekeeping is looser—particularly in Southern Italy.
- Exchange business cards after a formal introduction, making sure to take a recognisable moment to examine the content of the card you are given before putting it away.
- Allow social conversation to pass before mentioning business and be aware that the length of socialising is usually longer with Southern Italians.
- The agendas of business meetings serve as guidelines as to how the meeting should go but are not adhered to closely. Italians often loop back to discuss previously settled points or jump ahead to details not yet touched on.
- Italians can conduct very animated business meetings, so expect many interruptions and tangents to unrelated topics as they often conduct multiple conversations at once when talking in a group. Try to be patient in this setting and feel free to interrupt in order to make your point heard. They are unlikely to find it rude. In order to avoid distraction from your proposal, sit directly next to the person you are interested in doing business with and make your proposition directly to him or her.
- Decisions are not always reached during meetings as they often serve the purpose of exchanging ideas, hashing out details and hearing the perspectives of all who are involved.
- Expect negotiations to be drawn out and know that using high-pressure tactics to reach a quicker decision is unlikely to work. Instead, persuasion works best when coming from an angle that is based on your personal relationship with the Italian.
Personal relationships play a large role in Italian business culture. Third-party introductions are can be helpful as Italians prefer to work with those whom they know and trust. It is also favoured that people meet face-to-face as often as possible as this deepens the personal relationship between partners. Verbal agreements are generally adhered to on the basis of trust – breaking them can jeopardise business relationships.
Italians will most likely be eager to know you and therefore may ask many questions about your family and personal life. Sometimes, these can come across as too direct and overly personal, but it is generally not intended that way. In fact, they usually expect you to ask the same of them. Consider that networking is not done idly in Italian culture since personal contacts can be crucial to success; therefore, Italians invest much time and effort in their relationships and getting to know those whom they work with.
It is best to keep in regular contact with your Italian business associate. This shows your interest and thoughtfulness in the business relationship. In order to deepen a relationship, try to be as talkative and transparent with them as possible. Your charisma can have a large influence on whether they like or trust you or not. Ultimately, the impression you leave on an Italian can have a huge impact on the decisions they make and may even override business objectives. For example, if you have a great offer for them, but they don’t like your attitude, they may pass on the offer.
Shortcuts in Italian Business Culture
Italians like to be flexible about business. It is common for people to bend rules and put different interpretations on regulations in order to get around business constraints. They are generally not clear violations of rules, but are rather matters in the bureaucratic grey areas where a shortcut seems to be – in an Italian's eyes – good judgement. Australians may be uncomfortable with this, but some Italians can consider it to be more efficient and even common sense.
Italians may stress the benefits you will receive from working with them and point out that if you do not accept, they will go on without you to achieve certain goals anyway. Keep in mind, that if you argue with them and point out the boundaries, you can potentially lose their trust. They may see you as old fashioned and rigid because you are bound by ‘unnecessary’ rules.
- Hierarchy is important in Italian business culture. Status is often based on age and position. Everyone – including those who hold lower statuses – is usually given the opportunity to speak during meetings; however, credit for decisions is almost always given to the person of the highest status.
- Italians may aim to leave negotiations with evidence that they have gained something as they are generally very success and goal orientated.
- Competition among work colleagues is common and can be considered healthy for free-flowing discussion and progress in Italian business culture.
- It is easy to perceive Italian organisations as unruly as the forethought to their planning is not always instantly identifiable to Australians. However, recognise that their method – though perhaps unclear to you – does indeed work; Italians generally perform very well in what they do.
- Italians can appear overly expressive to Australians. You may observe Italian business partners bickering furiously with each other, and revert to being friendly and jovial again as the conversation moves to the next point.
- On the Corruption Perception Index (2017), Italy ranks 54th out of 180 countries, receiving a score of 50 (on a scale from 0 to 100). This perception suggests that the country’s public sector has a moderate level of corruption.