Cultural tips: Italy

What to expect when doing Business with Italians

  • Confide in them as much as you dare. This includes revealing family details, hopes, disappointments, particulars of past life, education, holidays and so on. They will reveal much of their private life to you. Listen sympathetically.
  • Once a certain closeness has been established, maintain it. They wish to be telephoned often, visited if possible. They rarely seem to tire of frequent contact.
  • Their family is their first loyalty and it is a good idea to ask frequently about their welfare, especially that of older relatives.
  • Be prepared, in principle, to grant any personal favour they may ask of you.
  • They must feel that you are in their “group” and they in yours. This involves showing greater loyalty to them than to “outsiders” (e.g. officials and authorities). Be willing to share Italian conspiracies.
  • Italians do not always obey the letter of the law. They put a very flexible interpretation on certain agreements, controls and regulations and do not consider their approach to be in any way immoral or misleading. They will happily take you into their ‘conspiracy’ and share the ‘benefits’ with you, if you accept. It is not a question of clear illegalities - There are many grey areas where short cuts are, in Italian eyes, a matter of common sense.
  • Strive to be communicative. There is no advantage in leaving things unsaid with Italians. They rarely see the point of discreet silence, vagueness or ambiguity. They have a tendency to misunderstand coded speech.
  • They are not insulted easily. You can criticize and joke with them. They are not touchy about nationalism.
  • There is not a strong correlation in Italy between word and deed. Accept quickly a change of heart or mind on their part. Often they agree to things euphorically.
  • Appreciate in full Europe’s cultural debt to Italy. (Leonardo, Michelangelo, Rafael, Dante, Mazzini, Galileo, Rossini, Verdi, Caruso, Gigli, Leopardi, etc.). Show a strong interest in the incredible richness of their culture. Take time out to visit places of historical or artistic interest with them if they offer such opportunities. 
  • At meetings, Italians do not follow agendas strictly. They will jump ahead to later points or re-discuss points or thoughts that had already been settled.
  • They will talk loudly, excitedly and at length. Often several people will speak at once and you may find that micro-meetings are happening within the main one.
  • Almost all Italians are optimists and sincerely believe in their ability to perform to the highest standard.
  • The Italian is an excellent negotiator, with a style and attitude based on flexibility. They may present things in a very personal way or become emotional.
  • Italians are analytical, but subtle in proposals and have great powers of persuasion based on apparent reasonableness and empathy. 
  • They rarely walk away from business opportunities, and may accept second-best, if unable to win the main deal. Their starting offers are high, but they are ready to negotiate down to a more realistic level. 
  • When selling to them, it is advisable to show them a first price which allows some room for reduction later. They will expect it. They must come away from the deal showing that they have won or gained something.
  • Work may be carried out late, particularly in the summer months. Deliveries and payments tend to be behind schedule. Commitments between individuals who know each other are surer than those made by “faceless” companies.
  • Italians are generally easy-going and tolerant people who have few taboos and accept differing manners of foreigners with equanimity.
  • Machismo is, however, endemic, especially in the south and in Sicily. Questions of personal and family honour assume great importance. The only real taboo is concerning offending female members of the family. Otherwise Italian tolerance is legendary. Criticism of the Church is allowed, also of the political system. Ways of avoiding government regulations and taxes are discussed openly. Lack of courtesy is, however, frowned upon and a certain delicacy is expected when discussing matters of a personal nature.
  • They are generous hosts and gift-givers and show gratitude when you are willing to be spoiled. Do not rush meals. 
  • Do not rely on putting much in writing – it is the spoken word that counts.
  • Above all, be human. Italians are pragmatic and down-to-earth, but they crave understanding and simpatia. The human touch in social and business dealings will generate intense loyalty in an Italian partner. 
  • Source: CultureActive by Richard D. Lewis

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