Negotiating styles in Italy

Written by Kevin de Kruijf, Maaike Klaver, Marlissa Meijer and Maroescha Sanches January 2014. Posted in Int. Skills, Negotiations

Negotiating styles in Italy

Negotiating with Italian people can take a lot of time. Especially for people from North Europe and the United States, this can be very frustrating. Therefore, patience is very important and will eventually pay off.
According to index mundi (2012), Germany is the number one trade partner of Italy, in terms of export as well as import. Although the distance between these countries is minimal, the cultural difference is huge. Italians tend to combine business and personal life, because family is very important to them. The Germans on the other hand like to keep business and personal life separated. Personal relationships are very important for Italian people. They want to get to know you before they start doing business with you. In Italy it is all about who you know, not what you know. This is sometimes confusing for their German trade partners, who judge on qualifications, level of education and achievements.
Another important thing to remember is that Italian companies often have a very hierarchical structure, which basically means that you often speak to someone that is not the decision maker. It is difficult to get to speak to the person that actually makes the decisions. You will have to build trust within the company first.
Italian people believe that hierarchy should be respected and that treating people differently because of their status is acceptable. In the Southern part of the country, this is even more important. Status symbols are also very important in a way that it shows how important you are. High priced cars are a good example of strengthening your status.
An important thing to remember is that in Italy, old people get more respect than younger people. This is because old people are seen as very wise people with a lot of experience in life. Therefore, it is advisable to send a more senior negotiator to Italy to represent your company instead of a younger person. A senior negotiator will be taken more seriously.
Besides age and status symbols, Italians will also judge you on style and the way you dress. Fashion is very important in Italy, so make sure you are well dressed. Formal elegance, charms and confidence is important as well.
Italians will always avoid the word “no”. They do not like to be direct, and if you reject them, they might take it as personal rejection. Instead, they will start talking about other things, like family of other parts of the contract. That is the clue for you to see that they do not like your suggestion. Also, the contract may be written in a very difficult way to understand because the Italian language is very poetic.
A last thing to take into considerations is that Italians may call you their friend. Don not be mislead into thinking that you have won their trust and can start to negotiate immediately, because the word “friend” has a different meaning in business than in personal life. According to Geert Hofstede (2004) in business terms, a “friend” is someone you know that can be useful to introduce you to important and powerful people in business.