Doing business in Italy is not as easy as it seems, especially if you are a foreigner.
I always had a feeling that I would be working for myself when I was a young guy, but I couldn’t have imagined that I would be doing business in Italy. I had spent a considerable amount of my years in Italy, but only as a student/tourist.
After going into business with my friend from college, I quickly discovered that the country I had spent so much time enjoying as a student had not prepared for the nuances of doing business in Italy.
After accumulating over two years of business experience, I have learned many different business and cultural lessons that will hopefully be insightful for you if you ever find yourself doing business in Italy as a foreigner.
This is one of the hardest things for foreigners to wrap their minds around because of the social norms that they are used to.
It took me a while to come to terms with this reality. I spent a considerable amount of time grumbling about how I thought things should be and how business in Italy should be done, instead of accepting them for what they are.
It was only until one evening when I was listening to Jim Rohn and he said, “It’s not going to change. For things to change, you must change”. That was my eureka moment in understanding how to do business in Italy.
The takeaway here is not to pretend to be a different person or to change your personality. The point is to understand the specific cultural context in which you are operating, in order to better help you cope with your surroundings. Focus on achieving results the best way you can by looking for similarities between your culture and that of the Italian culture or any other, for that matter.
This lesson has everything to do with your level of emotional intelligence. It is very easy to be critical of people and situations that we do not like because they lie outside our comfort zone. This is normal, but that doesn’t make it right. This is something that I found to be challenging while doing business in Italy.
I remember my early days of doing business in Italy and being frustrated at how long it would take a business idea to materialize. For instance, I remember being in communication with an
organization with whom I was pushing for us to have a strategic partnership with.
All the other companies seemed to be preoccupied with just talking about doing business instead of focusing on executing on the ideas we had spent so much time talking about. I was irritated with the back and forth.
But I never once openly complained in a way that made me seem hyper-critical of Italian business culture because I understood that that could be deemed offensive to my partner who is Italian. Instead, I learned to never criticize, but instead to try to find a way to depend more on myself than just simply complain about what others weren’t doing for our business.
Complaining never changed the weather, just make sure to pack an umbrella!
I am a naturally observant person by nature and I am very good at analysing behaviour and understanding the nonverbal communication of others around me. I began to pay closer attention to my environment and look for ways to capitalize on the things I was learning just by watching how Italians behaved.
For example, I discovered that Italians are big on informal relationships, especially when it comes to business in Italy. I remember one time being in a meeting with a prospective client, and all he wanted to talk about was American sports. I realized that he was first trying to establish a relationship on common grounds with me before feeling comfortable to do business with me.
From that moment on, I made a conscious decision to notice the moments when this was happening when I was talking to a prospective businessperson. If you are an American reading this, my advice to you is to be open to establishing relationships first and understand that it is going to take time before the check comes through.
Realize that you won’t earn a penny complaining, but will increase your chances of success by investing more time in trying to relate and establish common grounds to make your business life easier and congenial.
Now I’d like to hear from you, how many of you out there are doing business or working in a country that is not your homeland?
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