11 tips for successful business negotiations in Italy

Discover the best ways to polish your negotiation techniques in Italy.

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To make meetings a success in a foreign country, you should always try to ‘act locally’. In Italy, business etiquette is not particularly strict, but it still shouldn't be overlooked. Read on for the key practices to follow — and what to avoid.

The dos

The importance of relationships

In Italy, as with the majority of southern European countries, business is based on relationships and human interaction.

Be patient! Contracts are rarely signed in the first meeting. Meetings are essentially icebreaking sessions during which future partners can get to know one another. Reciprocal trust between future business partners is essential here. Respect and mutual affection must always be established before proposals come into play.

This means that negotiations are often lengthy, particularly when the final decision is centralised and the hierarchy is inflexible. Many family-run businesses in Italy are a prime example of this.

We encourage you to develop strong relationships with your future partners. It's recommended to meet them in a relaxed, informal setting, away from the office environment. Chat about your family and hobbies, as the Italians value personal relationships and shared understanding. 

Schedule lengthy lunches and dinners with your business partners — they will be delighted. Hospitality is very important here. The worst thing you can do in an Italian’s eyes is to decline a lunch or dinner invitation. Business and food go hand in hand in Italy. 

Speak the language and adapt to the Italian lifestyle

In Italy, if you attempt to speak the language your efforts will be much appreciated. 

Be expressive and speak from the heart. You must be in tune with your future partners, who are often very vocal. Silence makes the Italians feel uncomfortable: being reserved is not a good approach as it can be perceived as a lack of enthusiasm. Arrogance, however, is not appreciated. Your future partners will be watching your every move so avoid sitting back as this doesn't look good. 

Being prepared in advance to negotiate prices and deadlines is advised, especially if you feel a little apprehensive. 

An interpreter will accompany you in the meeting. In VSEs and SMBs, those who speak English are often not the decision-makers. 

The don’ts

The importance of appearance

Choosing short-sleeved shirts in warmer weather is a big mistake. You must pay close attention to your clothing and physical appearance as it's a reflection of your social status and success in business. Elegance and style are essential. A dark suit is preferable. It's considered fashionable to wear high-quality accessories (watch, cufflinks etc.). Shoes must be well polished and in good condition.

Your presentation documents are often limited to a business card and Powerpoint... Just as your personal appearance should be neat and tidy, your documents must be equally so. Your business cards should be bilingual and feature all your qualifications and your presentation (of your business) must be engaging. This is just as important as the content of your proposal.  

The ‘bella figura’ or how to make a good impression

The Italians aren't always punctual, but that doesn't mean you can be late. If meetings are running behind schedule, you should still honour the agreed timings. If your future business partner arrives late, don't let it faze you.

Running out of time for your meeting? Thinking about getting your subordinate to step in? Not a good move. The Italians generally prefer to do business with prominent people within the company.

You might be fascinated by stories of the Vatican and the Mafia, but it's better not to mention these. Even if Italian culture is lightly mocked by your business partners, don't join in! Also, negative comments about local football teams won't be tolerated. And as a final note, don't unleash your curiosity about the tensions between the northern, central and southern regions of Italy!

Armed with this advice, you'll soon start to feel (and be perceived as) one of the locals. Focus on relationships, your appearance and honouring the company you represent. These moves will get your negotiations off to the strongest start. 

Published by Julie on 26/01/2018 Photo credit: © Istock, piola666

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