Doing business in Italy is very different to doing business in the United States. No matter how good your business idea, if you are planning to do business in Italy, you will need to know how to go about it in the right way or you’ll hurt your chances of success.
Here are some of the most important things you need to know about business culture and etiquette in Italy.
Business Is Based on Relationships
First of all, you should know that in Italy, relationships are important when doing business. Focus on getting introductions to people during your trip, and make an effort to be friendly and talk about their culture and other things unrelated to business.
You want them to like you, and you will find that the informal initial meetings are a good place to focus on this. So use them to establish a relationship rather than jumping straight in.
Don’t Expect Quick Decisions
The style in Italy is to think over things properly and at length, which can mean decisions are not made quickly. Don’t be frustrated by this even if it is not the American style.
If you leave a meeting and no decision has been made, this is not a bad thing. The relationship is what matters. Know that decisions are often made slowly and that Italians will not appreciate being put under pressure.
Appearance plays a big role in Italian culture, and the same is true of the business culture. Always be smart and presentable because what you wear will reflect your success and competence.
Stay fresh and well rested, and ensure you choose a hotel where this will be easy to do. For example, if you are staying in Milan, choose an international hotel like the Bulgari Hotel Milano by Marriott where you can expect the highest standards of comfort.
It’s important to be respectful of status and age, so show this in your meetings by introducing yourself to the older people and the most important people in the organization first.
Avoid August and Public Holidays
The month of August is the main holiday month, and people will be harder to get hold of, so book your business trip at another time of year. Also, find out about local holidays and avoid these days.
Greet in the Local Style
When meeting a group, go around everyone in the group and shake hands—don’t just greet them all with a wave. Also, it’s usually best to wait to receive a business gift before giving one yourself and keep direct eye contact to show you are interested.
Learn the Lingo
It helps to learn a few phrases before you meet people in Italy. Something as simple as a “Buongiorno” for good morning will be appreciated, and call people by their titles “Signor” or “Signora” until they ask you to use their first name.
Don’t Expect Punctuality
Italians are not particularly fussed about punctuality. Meetings may not start on time, and this is not rude, it is just the custom. You might even be kept waiting outside—but still, make an effort to be on time yourself.
Focus on Building Relationships
These are some of the main things to keep in mind during your business trip to Italy, but remember that the main focus of your trip should be to build relationships.
Get to know people, build a bond, focus on getting them to trust you, and accept their invitations to drink coffee or go out for meals. That is the best use of your time in Italy.