Italians are uneasy with the search for an absolute truth. The truth is a flexible commodity, which can change shape and move position with great rapidity. The search for an absolute answer is non-practical and over-rigid.
In-depth, long-term planning is not really expected or respected. Such planning is pointless in a rapidly changing, volatile business and personal environment. Long-term plans, if they exist at all, tend to be in grand outline terms only.
The greatest amount of respect is not necessarily due to the person with the greatest depth of technical merit. Personal qualities and loyalties are far more important.
Decisions are rarely reached by voting. It is important to get consensus and buy-in to a decision. If no real consensus is arrived at it is possible that dissidents could undermine the groups work from within.
Leadership styles are varied in Italy but traditionally tend towards the authoritative with direct instructions given by a strong leader. A sense of authority is important and this derives more from the personal qualities of a leader than their technical expertise.
Outbursts of emotion in the workplace are viewed positively and do not mean that an individual is out of control or non-professional. It would be dangerous to underestimate an Italian because of their emotive nature in meeting situations.
It is not always sufficient to get a verbal agreement – this may be given merely out of politeness. Persuasion, insistence and follow-up are essential.
Relationships are all important in Italy. Everything flows from these networks of relationships. An essential pre-requisite to successful co-operation in Italy is the establishment of strong, long-term ties. Do not view such relationship-building exercises as time wasting.
Delegation tends to be on the basis of individual relationships rather than on technical competence. This means that one individual may seem to have an alarming variety of responsibilities. Job descriptions tend to be imprecise.
Some small talk is usually engaged in before the meeting proper starts. This stage of the meeting is, however, rarely protracted (five minutes or less.)
Teams built across hierarchical lines tend to be difficult to arrange as they interfere with the normal relationship networks. (Unless the cross-departmental team mirrors one of the existing networks.)
Any impression that the meeting is an open forum for decision-making is likely to be pure theatre. Even when a decision is agreed it is likely that a different decision will be made elsewhere and implemented by the loyal allies of the person making the decision
Meetings are usually informal and are in order to assess the mood of people, gauge the strength of feeling on particular issues and not necessarily in order to reach a decision.
It is difficult to go through a pre-arranged agenda in a structured way. Viewing the business holistically, all items are inter-related.
Everybody at the meeting is entitled to have a say. The importance placed on ideas put forward rests more on the character and influence of the speaker than the weight of the idea itself.
It is acceptable to leave or enter a meeting as necessary. Small sub-meetings often develop within meetings. Mobile phone calls are often accepted – especially if waiting for a call from somebody trusted or admired.
More reliance is placed on the spoken than the printed word and it is always, therefore, important to talk to people directly rather than to rely solely on written information. The ability to speak eloquently and at length is valued.
Humour is used less than in the UK but much more so than in Germany, Switzerland etc. It is important to be seen as not too serious – life must still be enjoyed.
Punctuality is important but human relations are more important. Italians will appear on time if they can but other, more vital, human transactions may interfere.
Food is important and meal times are more for human interaction and relationship building than for discussing detailed business matters.
Written and Produced by Keith Warburton
This country profile has been produced to give a short overview of some of the key concepts to bear in mind when doing business with contacts in Italy. It is intended to be an aid to business people who have commercial dealings with counterparties in the country but should not be seen as an exhaustive guide to this topic or as a substitute for more substantial research should there be a need.
With this in mind, we have covered the areas which are key to a better understanding of the cultural mindset underpinning business dealings in Italy and which are, quite often, extremely different from the approach and thought processes associated with business in other parts of the world.
Therefore this briefing note is broken into short, bite-sized sections on the following topics: