In Italian medium-sized companies, negotiations often take place only at the highest hierarchical level. If this is different in your company, you should nevertheless send representatives of a comparable hierarchical level to the negotiating table. If there is a mismatch between hierarchical levels and seniority, Italians will take this as a lack of respect and they will withdraw from the discussions.
Larger companies will send negotiators from a specific department to the conference room. In this case, however, you have to assume that the final decision will be made by the higher-ups.
A good atmosphere
Italians will always aim to create a good atmosphere in which everyone feels comfortable during negotiations. You should therefore expect many coffee breaks and lots of small talk, especially if the talks appear to be stalled. And your counterparts will certainly often propose going out to eat together to lighten the mood.
Negotiations with Italian business partners are relationship-driven at every stage. A good personal relationship between business partners is more important than the quality of the product, the price or the contractual conditions. Be diplomatic and avoid direct confrontations.
The course of the discussions is often circular, i.e. individual points are taken up time and again and, if there is too great a disagreement, they are dropped until an agreement can be reached one step at a time.
Trying to outwit, pressurize or force others into action is not seen as having strong negotiating skills. Saving face is important. If you don’t do so, you will no longer be perceived as a trustworthy business partner and the talks will quickly be aborted.
Therefore, it is important that you really treat your Italian negotiating partners as “partners” and strive for a win-win situation.
Haggling over prices
But be advised! Despite their diplomatic nature, Italians will haggle over prices and conditions—either persistently or simply because they enjoy the communicative debate. Ultimately, however, everyone in the room knows that an agreement will be reached if there is a good personal relationship and that both parties will strive for the best deal for everyone involved.
So expect lively discussions and emotionally expressive appeals at the climax of the talks. Allow plenty of time and sufficient negotiating leeway to engage in some rather dramatic give and take.
Verbal agreements are very important in this highly communicative business culture. You can therefore rely on your Italian business partner’s word and should likewise stand by what you promised at the negotiating table.
Of course, written contracts are also drawn up in Italy—and quite detailed ones at that. However, these are usually not set in stone. If the basic conditions change, your Italian business partners will assume that conditions can be renegotiated or simply handled more flexibly than was once stipulated in writing.
In this case, remember that ultimately the personal relationship is paramount. Sticking to the written contract and insisting on its validity alone will not lead to success.