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Doing Business in Italy

Business Etiquette italyDoing business abroad introduces international business people to differences in approaches to business, business etiquette and protocol. Although these may not be crucial to business proceedings they should not be dismissed as unnecessary.

Cross cultural awareness can enhance the potential of the international business person's trip considerably. Let us look at a brief example:

There are two business people each planning on doing business in Italy. Both have similar proposals. One ignores the possible impact of culture and concentrates their efforts on the business proposal. The other also invests time and energy in the proposal but in addition realises that doing business in Italy is a lot different to doing business in the UK or USA. They look into the business etiquette of Italy, the way in which meetings are conducted and negotiation styles.


Nine times out of ten the latter of the two will have the advantage. They will be able to tailor their proposal and demeanour to gel better with the Italian way. In addition, they would endear themselves to the Italian hosts.

This guide to doing business in Italy is designed as a brief introduction to areas business people should take into consideration before travelling to Italy.

Doing Business - Etiquette

Good manners and courtesy are prized qualities in Italy. When doing business in Italy ensure your conduct is always polished. There are etiquettes and protocols for many social and business situations, however, it is important to remember that Italians rate considerateness above behavioural formulas.

When meeting and departing always shake hands. This is valid for both individuals and groups. After doing business in Italy for a period of time and building relationships do not be surprised if you are embraced when being met. This indicates the relationship has reached an intimate level.

When doing business in Italy you will notice that little personal space is left between people when interacting. In addition, Italians are a tactile people. Moving away or keeping your distance may be interpreted as cold and unfriendly.

If you are familiar with Italian, use the polite 'lei' form until a relationship is established, then use the more informal 'tu' form. When doing business in Italy, address people using 'Signor' (m) or 'Signora' (f) followed by their surname. 'Dottore' (m) or 'Dottoressa' (f) is used for those who have graduated.

When doing business in Italy, dress to impress. It is no coincidence that Versace, Gucci, Prada and Dolce & Gabbana are all Italian fashion houses. Italians like to make an impression with their clothes. What you wear speaks volumes about the kind of person you are.


Doing Business - Punctuality

Italians are usually relaxed around issues relating to time. Being late with a good reason will not have any negative consequences. However, deliberate lateness is considered sloppy and taking people's time for granted is simply rude. When doing business in Italy err on the side of caution and aim to be punctual.

Doing Business - Business Entertaining

Hospitality plays a key role in Italian business culture. Invitations to lunch and dinner are to be expected when doing business there. At such occasions a small exclusive group will usually be present. Each attendee will have a particular interest in your visit. If you plan to host a meal, ask the most senior Italian contact who you should invite.

Dining does have certain protocol in Italy. However, do not place too much emphasis on this as more time would be spent worrying about etiquette mistakes than enjoying the experience. Major etiquette tips are that the most honoured guest sits at the middle of the table or on the right of the host; the host always pays; pass dishes to the left; keep your knife in the right hand and fork in the left and do not answer phone calls at the table.


Doing Business - Meeting and Negotiations

Italians prefer to do business with someone they know. When doing business in Italy, use contacts and networks to introduce you before proceeding to set up meetings.


To arrange a meeting write, in Italian, first. Follow this up with a phone call, fax or e-mail. The best time for meetings is between 10 - 11 a.m. and after 3 p.m. Avoid August as most businesses will run on skeleton staff due to holidays.

Negotiations can be slow. Demonstrating a sense of urgency is seen as a sign of weakness. At the beginning of a meeting avoid business and concentrate on some small talk. Topics of discussion could include Italian culture, food, wine and football (soccer). Italians will take away proposals and analyse them carefully. Be sure to offer as much information as possible in written form for them to take away. A known Italian tactic is to dramatically change demands at the eleventh hour to unsettle or test the flexibility of their counterparts. Remain firm.

Doing Business in Italy

These above examples point to a few considerations one must make when doing business in Italy. Such cross cultural skills enhance the potential of your business trip. By demonstrating an understanding of Italian culture and etiquette you prepare both yourself and the proposal properly for the target audience.

Business Culture Guides

We offer free guides to doing business in many countries. Please visit Business Culture Guides for a full list.

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