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Business Practices and Italian Culture

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If you’re working with Italians and want to make a good impression, then this blog's for you!

The most valuable thing you can do is to learn about Italian business culture.

By respecting Italian business etiquette and avoiding potentially taboo behaviours, you will be better placed to deliver successful business outcomes.

Below, we’ve outlined some of the most important features of Italian business culture that you should be aware of.

Remember, this is just a high-level overview, not hard and fast rules to apply to every Italian you may meet.

These are simply generalisations to offer some guidance for those unfamiliar with Italian business culture.


Marker Showing Italian FlagDid you know that Italy is ranked as one of the easier cultures in which to do business?

The Business Culture Complexity Index™ ranks it 13th out of the top 50 economies in the world.


1. Dressing well

It should come as no surprise that Italians place great value on dressing well in the workplace.

People tend to be well groomed and to wear tailored suits, ties, smart business skirts, shirts and jewellery in the workplace.

If you come from a culture where the dress code is very relaxed and informal, then be aware that this may well present you in a poor light in Italy. As such, you should make an effort when dressing.

At the very least, male or female, you should consider wearing a well-cut suit, ensure your shoes are polished and that you’re well groomed.

Presenting yourself in this manner will help promote you as professional and trustworthy.


2. The Fluidity of Time

Italy is not a culture which places a huge amount of value on time.

If something arises that is deemed to take precedence over the task in hand, then they are likely to turn their attention to it. In fact, it’s fair to say, that Italians tend to be good multi-taskers in this respect.

As such if your Italian colleague is responsible for delivering a task that you feel is important, then make sure you emphasise the importance of the deadline. You may also want to introduce ‘touch points’ to check progress along the way.

The fluidity of time in Italian culture also means that your Italian peers may not always be punctual for meetings or related events. If you’re from a more time sensitive culture, then you should continue to arrive on time, even if your colleagues don’t.

Why? Because although time fluidity is a general characteristic of Italian business culture, this feature won’t define everyone you meet. If you’re meeting with someone who is more time focused, then they may well expect you to arrive punctually.

If colleagues arrive late to a meeting, it’s important you don’t react negatively by rolling your eyes or making other irritated gestures as this will cast you in a bad light. This flexible approach to time is deeply embedded in Italian culture; it is not intended to be offensive and neither is it intended to be rude.

As such, when working in Italy, it’s important that you adapt your mindset as you will be fighting a losing battle if you try to force your Italian colleagues to adhere to a stricter approach to time.


Italian women eating food outside

Food and friendship are cornerstones of doing business in Italy.

Discover more about Italian culture in our free Italy country guide.

Photo by Adrienn from Pexels


3. The Value of Relationships

Where Italian culture places less value on time, greater value is placed on relationships, meaning that relationships are incredibly important.

As such, you may find that your Italian peers make great efforts to get to know you and to be hospitable. They may well ask you lots of personal questions that you’re not used to being asked. However, try to relax and engage without feeling that they are intruding.

The importance given to relationships is prevalent throughout the business setting. For example, when it comes to meetings, time is dedicated to small talk and ‘chit chat’ at the outset of the meeting. Business won’t be discussed until the ‘cogs have been oiled’ as it were.

If you’re from a culture such as the German, British or North American culture, you will know that far less value is placed on relationships. Although small talk at the outset of meetings is considered important, it’s also limited with greater priority being given to the agenda at hand.

Whereas individuals from these cultures place greater value on covering agenda items in order and sticking to the meeting timescales, you’ll probably find that this isn’t the case in Italy. You’re more likely to fid that Italians take many tangents, conduct parallel conversations, and jump between agenda points. The reason for this tends be rooted in relationships.

For example, input is valued from everyone. Everyone is welcome to speak or to redirect the conversation. Remember too, that Italians are masters of multitasking and manage circular and parallel discussions with ease!

If you’re from a time focused culture, then it’s easy to become frustrated by this. As such, it’s important to manage your expectations and adapt your approach. If, for example, you want to make a point, then politely interrupt. Your Italian peers are unlikely to perceive this as rude or offensive.


Customized training course on Italian business culture


4. The Role of Hierarchy

Italian culture tends to be very hierarchical, meaning that great respect is given to age, experience and position.

It’s important that you’re aware of this when working with Italians as it will impact important areas such as decision making. Decisions are rarely made as a collective during meetings. Instead, the respective manager or leader will take responsibility for a decision and communicate it accordingly.

This may well make it a little slower to get things done as decisions need to work their way through the appropriate channels. Exerting undue pressure will be neither helpful nor productive. If you are keen to influence a decision, then it’s important to identify the decision maker and to arrange a separate discussion with them.

You should also ensure you show the necessary deference to those higher up the chain. This will help you make a good impression and avoid causing potential offence.


Making a Good Impression with Italians

In summary, Italian business culture may be quite different to what you’re used to.

This doesn’t mean that business in Italy is any less effective – the Italian commercial world is incredibly competitive and effective.

As such, it’s important that you adapt to these cultural differences and apply yourself a little differently to meet your outcomes.

So, how can you make a good impression with Italians?

By...

  1. dressing well
  2. valuing relationships
  3. accepting that time is more flexible, and
  4. acknowledging hierarchy

...you will be better placed to present yourself positively and to manage expectations.


 Blog image by Alan Kotok


 

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