Volevi la bicicletta, adesso devi pedalare!
As they say in Italian, “You wanted the bike, now you have to pedal!” Working across cultures isn’t always easy. However, the extra efforts that you make often exponentially increase your chances for success. So, whether you are doing business in Italy’s more industrial northern and central regions, or further south where agriculture dominates, here are three of our favorite tips to get you started on that pedaling!
Tip #1: Figure out “La Bella Figura”.
“Bella figura” literally means “beautiful figure”, but it’s more than that. For example, it encompasses appropriate dress, style, confidence, and etiquette. Aesthetics count. So, the clothing you choose, the materials you present, and the product you sell all take on an important role in non-verbal communication. Therefore, be mindful of your self-image as well as the appearances of those around you. There’s no need to be showy though. It’s more about finding discreet ways to show your best self in front of others.
Tip #2: “La cordata” counts.
The Italian value of hierarchy is deeply rooted in the influence of Roman Catholicism. However, it often shows up in how the chain of command (la cordata) is managed in business. For example, it is preferable to negotiate with higher level people. Ultimately, decisions may be made more based on impressions than proposal content. (Did someone say bella figura again?) Networking, even nepotism, are ways that Italians often get ahead and progress up through an organization. So, never turn down a relationship-building invitation.
Tip #3: Personal first, business later.
In meetings, you slowly progress to business. So, it’s important to add extra time into your schedule for relationship building. For example, make small talk about Italy, travels, culture, or sports before broaching business matters. (But, avoid politics, especially given how messy and polarized politics can be in Italy.) Plan on long business lunches and dinners and remember to allow time for interruptions. For instance, smoking breaks, coffee breaks, and telephone breaks are all common. Interrupting is interacting and not necessarily considered rude.