Doing business in Italy: some cultural conventions to know

 

Cultural factors and influences play a key role even when it comes to talking about doing business. We know that Americans take very much into account the cultural context they work within, while it is not exactly the same for Italians, who believe culture doesn’t influence a successful business result. Perhaps they are sometimes too influenced by their habits and customs in their business decisions.

 

Therefore, when doing business in Italy there are certain conventions concerning the business etiquette that foreign businessmen should know, if they want to make their business successful. In fact, cross-cultural awareness can be considerably important to increase the potential of an international business.

Here is a list of some important Italian customs within the business environment which could become useful.

Preliminary step: meeting and negotiations

Always try to establish a good relationship with your potential business partner before arranging a meeting, as Italians like doing business with somebody they know and can trust.

First, write some emails explaining your objectives, but remember that email etiquette is not particularly good in Italy so do not expect an immediate answer, in fact, you may be better off not expecting an answer at all: in most cases, a phone call is the better option.

Business meetings usually take place between 10 a.m. or 11 a.m. or after 3 p.m. if you have arranged for the afternoon.

It is better to avoid days which are very close to holidays, especially August, because a lot of staff are not working and it would be less easy to get things done on time; however, this obviously depends on the type of business you are doing.

As far as the procedure and steps of the business are concerned, try not to be hasty. In fact, negotiations can be quite slow because Italians want to understand things well and know the person they are dealing with. Moreover, being impatient and being in urgent need of ending negotiations will be read as a sign of weakness. Try not to be impatient if you want to be successful!

Social interaction

Good manners and politeness are appreciated worldwide and in Italy they are fundamental.

The right way to introduce yourself or greet people is shaking hands: do it both when you meet and leave. Be sure that this rule is applied to every person you are dealing with, no matter if there is a high number of people you have to greet.

It is possible that after a long time, when the business relationship becomes more informal, you may be embraced or greeted with a kiss by your Italian business partners, even if they are men. In this case, it is good manner to return because keeping your distance could be read as a cold and unfriendly behavior.

The clothes you wear are really important to impress Italian business people: we know Italians take a lot care of their image! A suit is certainly the right passepartout in order to avoid mistakes, but if the relationship becomes quite informal you can dress more casually.

Time and punctuality

Italians are not the type of people who will bang on time. Therefore, they are quite flexible about matters relating to it. We know that being punctual is a good way to make a good impression on people, so try to be on time. However, it could also happen that you will meet the type of stereotyped Italian who will be 15 or 30 minutes late.

Business around the table

Italians love eating, even when they do business. Italian business culture always includes a lunch or dinner with a business partner. In fact, you will certainly be invited to a local restaurant as hospitality is extremely important to Italians. Sitting around the table is a way of socializing and get to know each other better. Therefore, the topics of conversation are not only confined to the field of business; in fact, conversation will range from current affairs, foreign customs to sports. The atmosphere will be then more relaxed. If you are really concerned about lunch / dinner table manners please read this article on Italian eating rules

When eating try to avoid phone calls or if it is urgent try not to spend a long time on the phone.

Language

We know that English is the language for the international communication and actually you will be likely to meet people who speak quite fluent English, at least those who work in the field of import- export and international business. However, try to learn some simple words in Italian to make the meeting more impressive; in fact, that will certainly have positive effects!

 

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