Understand and embrace the concept of bella figura and you will make a good impression in Italy. This means, as well as looking good, you will come across as a sympathetic character, at the same time as being someone who can make decisions, speak eloquently and is interesting to be with socially. Turn up for appointments on time, even though your Italian colleagues may be late, and apologise profusely if you are late yourself.
Italians can relate to people who are passionate about their product, who understand the importance of design and style in a product, and who can present a good argument to back up their case during negotiations.
Top 10 essentials for working in Italy
- Behave and dress in a formal, refined manner, what Italians call ‘bella figura’ – a “consultative image”.
- Be prepared to spend time in Italy to develop a personal relationship; Italians have a preference for face-to-face contact. Email is too impersonal.
- Deal with the right people. Many businesses in Italy are small and family-run, with an autocratic leadership style. Be sure to deal with the decision maker.
- Find a mutual contact. Italians like to deal with people they know, so try to find a third party to make introductions.
- Pay attention to aesthetics. Presentations should be professional and stylish and products must be attractively packaged.
- Be spontaneous. An element of spontaneity is needed, socially and in business. New ideas may crop up in meetings, for example, that are not part of the agenda. These should be considered, not dismissed.
- Embrace debate. Italians often appear to be arguing but they are simply kicking ideas around. Conversation in meetings often appears to be circular.
- Negotiate slowly. Negotiations in Italy can be dramatic, with mock displays of anger, walking out of the room or bringing in another ‘expert’ to unbalance the other side. Be prepared and take your time.
- Understand decision making. Many factors may come into play, with individual gut feeling often as important as company policy. This is why a rapport with a contact is so important.
- Learn about regional differences. Sicilians and Sardinians are very different from Milanese and Romans. Understand the rivalries within Italy and the regional idiosyncracies.
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