Italy Flag Italy

Country Overview

Business Culture

Clothing Size Guides


Cost of Living

Culture and Society


Driving and Autos

Economy and Trade


Educational Resources


Export Process

Food Culture and Drink



Health and Medical


Holidays and Festivals

Import Process


Kids' Stuff


Life Stages


Media Outlets

Money and Banking



National Symbols

Points of Interest

Quality of Life

Real Estate


Security Briefing

Social Indicators

Travel Essentials

Business Culture: Decision Making

Cultural Context 

Italy has a rich and fascinatingly complex history, and has made many contributions to the world with its innovations in art, science, food, fashion, governance, religion, and more. For centuries, Italy was the center of European culture and thought. Today, Italy is frequently praised, envied, and emulated for the high quality of life of its citizens.

Italians are dedicated to ars vivendi, or the art of enjoying life—and they do, with delicious food, excellent wine, leisurely lunches and dinners, and easy displays of wealth when they have it. Italians are completely comfortable indulging in and displaying their own ideas of what it means to live the good life, and will not try to tone down their image or consumption in the name of modesty.

As a foreigner, you will be immediately assessed based on your clothes, your accessories, your business materials, and your manners. Although your Italian counterparts will want to examine every facet of your proposal carefully and may take months to make a final decision, they are likely to choose to make a deal with you in the end based on the figure you cut and not the figures of your deal—so put energy into making a good impression.

Power Structures

Italian corporate culture is fairly hierarchical, and many businesses in Italy are family operations. Italians have a strong and passionate sense of loyalty to family and community. It can take considerable time and effort for a foreigner to become accepted. Most Italian executives prefer to do business with those they already know and trust.

When doing business with foreign companies, Italian executives prefer to meet with senior representatives. Try to get top managers to attend your meetings and negotiations.

Key Contacts

Italian culture puts great value on family ties and an individual's responsibility to family and community. Italian businesspeople prefer to make deals with people they know, and you will have a much easier time gaining a meeting with Italian executives if you can gain an introduction through a mutual friend or business partner.

Once you've been recommended by a trusted friend or acquaintance, write a letter inviting the other party to a meeting—be sure to write it in Italian. Afterward, follow up by e-mail, phone, or fax. Meetings should be scheduled at least two weeks in advance.

Once you have secured a meeting or a series of meetings, bear in mind that your Italian counterparts are unlikely to agree to your deal until they feel they know you personally and trust you. Expect a long round of meetings and social events while your hosts get to know you and assesses your character.

Implementing Agreements

Italians tend to be fairly direct, but they will be diplomatic about it. In general, you won't find it difficult to tell when your Italian counterparts are telling you "no," or when they have an issue to bring up.

Before they get to know you well, your Italian counterparts are likely to be fairly formal in regular conversation. If you speak Italian, you'll find you are addressed in the formal form, lei (you), and you will be expected to address others likewise. Conversation can be less formal in private.

On the other hand, Italians are also known for their dramatic displays of emotion in public situations—and this does not necessarily conflict, in the Italian mind, with a more formal mode of address. It's not unusual for two people to appear to be having a very intense disagreement, when in reality they are having a far less dramatic conversation. It is also not considered rude for Italians to interrupt during conversation—this is a sign of interest and engagement.

As avid conversationalists, Italians frequently feel uncomfortable with silence. This can be used to great effect during negotiations—simply let a moment of silence stretch, and your Italian counterparts are likely to be the first to speak up.

Communicating Styles

Italians are well known for changing their demands and making unexpected requests at the last minute during negotiations. This tactic is designed to unsettle the other party, and it's crucial that you remain firm in your own demands.

Negotiations in Italy tend to be highly flexible, and your Italian counterparts may resist putting anything in writing as long as possible. Bear in mind that your Italian counterparts can bring up these dramatic changes and requests truly at the last minute—even while you're celebrating a verbal agreement over dinner. Be sure you put everything in writing as soon as an agreement is reached.

Once you do get a final contract, it is likely to be long and detailed. Written amendments and changes are fairly common, and it's not considered a breach of trust for you to ask for them—your Italian partners may as well. After you have established an agreement, stay in close touch with your Italian business partners to coordinate the agreement's execution.