The ability to use the right language and the right gestures when communicating is very important, especially in Italy. Hand gestures and personal contacts are a feature of Italian conversations. If you move away or keep your distance, this can be considered unfriendly. Italians are often guided by their feelings and trust is very important in establishing a good business relationship. During a meeting, try not to create a sense of urgency since this can appear rude or a weakness. You should make small talk and demonstrate your interest in Italian food, art, fashion or sports.
According to a popular joke, to stop an Italian talking just block his/her hands. Italians, in fact, tend to gesture to emphasize their speech.They are also very tactile: upon meeting and leaving, embraces and “kisses” are common between close friends and relatives.
Eye contact is vital because it is considered to be a sign of interest, openness and frankness. On the other hand, looking away is not appropriate and would send negative signals.
Business cards can be exchanged at any time during a meeting. Italian business cards normally contain all important business information including: contact details, business position, education degree and/or professional titles.
Sometimes, such titles are crossed out when the card is handed over. This is to indicate that a less formal relationship has been established and the formal title is not required when addressing your Italian partner.
The average language competence level of Italians is below EU standards, especially among the older generation. Currently, English is the most used foreign language. English, French, and German are frequently spoken in tourist resorts as, in these areas Italians are obliged to communicate with foreigners in order to conduct their business.
German is widespread in some areas, in particular in the north-east regions. The use of a professional translator is widespread among businessmen.
Personal relationships. Italians, generally establish relaxed personal relationships, often from the very first acquaintance. They also tend to be eloquent and curious. Questions about you, your family and your personal interests are all possible topics of conversation. Be aware, however, that this does not necessarily mean that you and your business have gained their trust. In fact, during the earlier contacts, the establishment of trust in a business relationship is as relevant as the presentation of a business project.
Management structure and style. Italian companies tend to have a pyramidal hierarchy; final decisions are centralised and taken by the persons positioned in the upper levels of the pyramid. Employees also have a great respect for their bosses and they tend to look for consensus with their colleagues.
Meetings are one of the best ways to get a deeper and common understanding of an issue rather than being the conclusive part of a decision making process. In this sense, meetings are more analysis-oriented than decision-oriented.
Usually the first contact with an Italian business partner should be formal. You should send an e mail, make a phone call or send a fax or letter. The general format you should use is the following:
Name of the Company
Title and name of the person addressed
Name of the street, followed by the number
Post code (5 digits), Name of the city followed by the province abbreviation code
Recently, Italian companies have been using Social Media like LinkedIn in order to promote their businesses and a lot of contacts have also been initiated throughout this communication tool.
Please also consider that after the first contact, Italians like to do business on a face-to-face basis rather than by phone, fax or e-mail.
If you don’t speak Italian, you should indicate this clearly in your letter, e-mail or fax, indicating the language you feel more confident speaking. Often, Italian businessmen do not speak English and they are prepared to use the services of a professional translator.
A certain formality is still common and appreciated. The use of professional titles is required, especially in writing.
Initially, you should address people by their title and last name (e.g. Dottor Rossi, please…) and wait to be explicitly invited to use other forms (first name or last name coupled with the Italian “tu”).
On the other hand, theuse of colloquial forms of address can be adopted quite rapidly, even during the first meeting, depending on the company culture and personal attitudes.
Dottore and Dottoressa are generic (male and female) titles for people with a university degree. Specific titles are used for lawyers (Avvocato), engineers (Ingegnere) and architects (Architetto). In these cases, the same forms also apply to women.
In writing, such titles are respectively abbreviated as Dott., Dott.ssa, Avv., Ing., Arch.