In order to successfully do business in Italy it’s crucial to be aware of the cultural etiquette and customs of the workplace. Whether you’re attending an interview or it’s your first day at work, understanding Italian business culture will help you to make a good impression on your Italian colleagues.
Your business etiquette in the workplace will play a major role in defining you to your colleagues and can even influence other people’s perceptions of the brand that you represent. Therefore, it’s essential to get it right to be able to reach your full professional potential in Italy.
Brief Overview Of Italian Business Culture.
The business culture and etiquette in Italy has changed at a far slower rate than in most other Western countries where there is a growing emphasis on more casual workplace relations. Although not entirely unique, Italian business culture is very different to that of the United States, Germany or the UK. Italian business etiquette is very hierarchical on the one hand while being far more flexible and social than most of their Northern European counterparts on the other.
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The Italian economy is also very divided between huge international companies like Ferrari and smaller family run businesses such as wineries and olive oil producers. The business culture in the smaller companies tends towards nepotism and traditional values. The larger, multinational and high tech companies are far more modern in their outlook although they still retain a very conservative workplace culture.
Italian employees tend to work long hours, particularly in the private sector, and are expected to be highly productive and able to multitask effectively. There has also been a major growth in remote working and flexible working patterns that allow single parents and employees with outside commitments to better manage their work/life balance. Nonetheless, traditional etiquette and social codes still dominate the workspace in almost all business settings; so you need to be aware of these to succeed in Italy.
Hierarchy In Italian Business Culture.
Hierarchy plays a significant role in Italian businesses and employees and partners are expected to show respect for the status that people have. Depending on the seniority of a colleague, you are expected to address them in particular ways. This also applies to your subordinates who should also treat you with respect and deference.
You are allowed, and encouraged, to make suggestions to people above you in the hierarchy but you should do so in a formal and cautious manner. This is very different to many Western companies that have much more causal relationships between senior management and their employees.
Greetings In The Workplace.
When you meet new colleagues or business partners you should be very formal in your approach. It’s customary to shake everyone’s hand in greeting and again before you leave at the end of a meeting. In some cases, you may even be expected to shake the hand of the most senior person first and then work your way down through the hierarchical chain of command.
At the start of a meeting you should take the opportunity to hand out your business card but it should always have an Italian translation on the back. This helps to make your colleagues feel valued and shows you are considerate and don’t expect them to necessarily be fluent in English.
Dress Code In The Italian Workplace.
The way you dress is an important part of business etiquette. As a general rule you should always dress to impress and wear smart office clothes. It’s okay to wear quite fashionable items, particularly as a woman, but you just make sure you’ve given it some thought.
For men, dark suits, a plain shirt and tie is the norm while women have a bit more scope in their choice of dress. However, women tend to wear quite understated makeup and low key jewelry so this is worth keeping in mind when planning your outfits for work.
Usually, you should try to follow the lead of your colleagues to quickly fit in with the rest of the office. You can check on a company or organization’s website or social media to get an idea of the dress code they wear at work. Larger companies almost always have a conservative and smart dress code although smaller family run businesses may dress much more casually.
Punctuality In Italy.
Italians are not as worried about strict punctuality than businesses tend to be in other countries. Of course, if you’re got an interview you shouldn’t walk in late and not expect it to reflect badly on you but business lunches and meetings often start a little late. Flexibility is usually built into any deadline in Italian business and so there aren’t the same kinds of time pressures that you will probably have experienced in business elsewhere.
Negotiations In Italy.
When you’re negotiating a business deal in Italy it’s usually conducted in English as opposed to Italian. In situations where some of the parties don’t speak English to a high enough standard then it’s common for a professional translator to be present to keep them informed of the progress of negotiations. This can slow things down a little but it’s an accepted cost of doing business in Italy.
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When negotiating a deal Italians are famous for their close scrutiny of all the potential benefits and risks. Negotiations are also slowed down by the fact that businesses are very hierarchical in their decision making process. This means that less senior members of a company may have to wait for approval from above before sealing a deal. Although this can be frustrating if you want to launch a new venture you’ll have to accept this as a part of doing business in Italy.
Discussions And Business Communications In Italy.
Unlike their Northern neighbors in Germany, France or the UK, Italian business communications and discussions are often lively and passionate! Italians will openly speak their mind in a far blunter way than other Western business people.
Generally, a handshake and verbal agreement to work together or go forward with a deal is a secure bond but you will also need to get a properly written agreement as well. This can take a while to arrange if senior management need to be consulted to confirm the deal before it can proceed.
Significant Differences Between Italian And American Business Culture.
Italy does business differently to the USA and other Western nations. These differences can take a little while to get used to but once you do you’ll soon feel right at home.
Smoking Breaks Are Scheduled Into The Timetable!
While it’s true to say that smoking is completely banned in all indoor public spaces in Italy, many Italians flaunt these rules as best they can! The enforcement of the indoor smoking ban is strictly policed but even so businesses make the necessary allowances to let smokers take frequent smoking breaks throughout the working day.
Corporate event and conference planners almost always schedule smoking breaks into the timetable and businesses allow their staff to take a couple of cigarette breaks during the normal working day. In most cases, there will be a well ventilated outdoor area with seats and even a heater provided for smokers during their breaks.
These smoking breaks are considered to be good moments for colleagues to bond with each and provide a more informal setting for personal chit chat. Of course, if you’re not a smoker this can make you feel left out but you can make it up by getting to know your colleagues over a coffee at lunch or after work hours.
Mobile Phones Are Not Such A Taboo In Italy.
In many parts of the West it is considered to be extremely rude to use your phone during a meeting or while you’re at a conference. Naturally, people often ignore this particular workplace etiquette but in Italy it’s not really frowned upon.
Generally speaking, it’s fine for you to text or reply to a text while you’re in a meeting and if you need to answer your phone to speak to a customer you can politely excuse yourself from the room for a few minutes without raising any eyebrows. If you know that you are likely to receive a call during a meeting you can mention it to the leader of proceedings before the meeting starts to be extra polite but it’s not usually expected of you.
Building Friendships With Potential Customers And Clients.
In every country it’s important to be polite and friendly in your business dealings but in Italy this is even more important than elsewhere. During a business transaction Italians tend to be pretty casual about closing the deal and are usually more focused on building long term relationships with their customers and clients. This slows down the process but is intended to create stronger business relationships in the long term.
For instance, many first meetings with a potential client take place in a cafe or restaurant as opposed to an office conference room. This gives the parties time to get to know each other so you shouldn’t try to rush into closing the deal or getting an agreement from the other parties because this can come across as rude.
In business meetings over lunch try to find common ground with the other parties; such as the good quality food or the beautiful setting of the restaurant. You should also stay relaxed and avoid checking your watch as though you were in a hurry! If you can, try to speak a little Italian, even if it’s just to apologize that you don’t speak the language as well as you’d like to.
A Few General Things To Keep In Mind.
Respect and hierarchy are both very important in Italian business etiquette so make sure you show your superiors that you are humble and respectful in your dealings with them. This means if someone senior enters a room you should stand up to greet them and always listen carefully when they are making a point.
When speaking to someone that is senior to you, try to use the formal version of you, ‘lei’, instead of the casual ‘tu’. You should also refer to people as ‘Signore’ or ‘Signora’ with their last name when addressing senior staff. Lastly, try to maintain eye contact when you’re listening to people who are senior to you. This will show you are listening attentively and demonstrating the proper respect for your seniors at work.
Another vital thing to avoid is giving off the impression that you think business is done better in your own country because this won’t go down well at all, particularly with senior members of a business. Italians are proud of their traditions and so as a foreigner doing business in Italy you should always be adaptable and ready to work with local traditions and social etiquettes.
Italian Business Practices Are Important To Be Aware Of As An Expat.
Understanding Italian business culture will help you to strike better deals and negotiate more effectively while you’re in the country. No matter what your seniority in a company or organization the business etiquette needs to be observed in order to forge a successful career in Italy.
Ultimately, your business etiquette and mannerisms will help to define your personality and competence in the workplace. Therefore, it’s crucial to understand how the business structure and system operates so that you can boost your professional profile as well as improve the image of the brand that you are representing.