While not all cultural mannerisms are required for business etiquette in Italy, showing initiative to learn these mannerisms can display your respect to your Italian business prospects. This can also help you avoid any potential miscommunication or embarrassment when meeting with clients.
Good manners are prized in the Italian culture. You should always conduct yourself in a polite manner. Handshakes are always given upon meeting and departing in Italy as well. After you have developed a relationship with your business prospect, do not be surprised if you are met with an embrace. By doing this, your prospect is signifying that your relationship has reached a more intimate level. Personal space is also limited in the Italian culture. Pulling away or standing at a distance can leave you perceived as cold or unfriendly. You should also be aware that Italians are very contact oriented.
Italians tend to be a little more relaxed about time. Tardiness may not cost you a business prospect, especially if you have good reason. However, being late without reason can be interpreted as a disregard for the time of others and is seen as sloppy business practice. That is just the way business etiquette in Italy runs.
Food plays a large role in the Italian culture. As a result, you should almost always expect to be invited out for lunch or dinner. While there are certain mannerisms involved with meals in Italy, avoid placing too much emphasis on these.
Concentrating on these mannerisms may prevent you from enjoying the hospitable experience; however, there are a few key etiquette rules that you should abide by. These include the honored guest sitting at the middle of the table on the right of the host, allowing the host to pay, holding your knife in your right hand and your fork in your left, passing dishes to your left, and not making or accepting phone calls at the table.
Using a network or contact that has already done business in Italy will help you fare much better in conducting business there. This is because Italians prefer to conduct business with people and businesses that they know. To set up your business meeting, send a request written in Italian by mail first. After the letter has had an adequate amount of time to reach your prospect, follow up with a fax, e-mail, or phone call. Avoid trying to set up meetings between the hours of 11am and 3pm. You should also avoid business meetings during the month of August due to the holiday season in Italy. In Italy, business negotiations are often slow. Urgency is often perceived as a sign of weakness in the Italian culture. You should also avoid jumping right into negotiations. Before meetings, Italians often spend time talking about food, culture, and soccer.
You will want to be sure that you place all of your information in written form for your business prospects. Italians often take proposals with them to consider and analyze. The more you have to offer in written form, the better off you will be. One cultural norm that you need to be aware of during the negotiation process is that during the 11th hour, you are likely to be contacted with extreme changes to your demands. This is done to test your flexibility. To avoid a serious loss, remain firm in your demands.
The Italian culture, while laid back in many ways, does have some etiquette rules that can help you succeed in business practices. While most mistakes in Italian business etiquette will not cost you a prospect, avoiding them could help you gain one and enjoy the negotiation process along the way.