7 Things We Can Learn From Italians About Work Relationships

Doriana ... truffle expert (and fabulous business collaborator) with me and my niece, Alina
Doriana … truffle expert (and fabulous business collaborator) with me and my niece, Alina

One of my first business meetings in Italy was about a possible collaboration in which I would bring guests to participate in a Tuscan cooking lesson. Several hours later, after a long lunch, lots of talking about food and weather and meeting various family members, nothing had been decided. In fact, we’d barely talked business at all. To my frustration that scenario repeated itself again and again until I learned to accept – and eventually to immensely enjoy – the particular ways in which Italians communicate, interact and nurture business relationships. In order to work with them, I needed to learn the steps to their cultural dance, so to speak. And so learn I did.

Although it’s taken a lot of practice – and acceptance – I’ve come to deeply appreciate not just my work (hosting small-group tours in Italy) but the very process of creating and collaborating alongside Italians. In fact, I’ve learned 7 particular things about work- and work relationships – that have helped me to enjoy the process as much as the end result.

Here they are:

Ermanno and Emanuele - drivers extraordinaire!
Ermanno and Emanuele – drivers extraordinaire!

1. Un lungo prima data (A long first date). Working with, and alongside, Italians requires going on long first dates, and those work dates tend to be interesting, memorable and – for the most part – genuine. Forget about diving into collaborations based solely on mutual financial benefit, Italians are culturally drawn towards getting to know one another better over a caffè or a lunch or a dinner, which makes collaborations (when and if they happen) all the more effective and enjoyable.

2. Faccia a faccia (Face to face). Nothing beats meeting and communicating face to face. In spite of modern-day technology and a plethora of devices, Italians still value talking together in person. In the past, time and time again, I would send out lengthy emails only to receive one-line responses, such as, “Vieni per un caffè“, Come for a coffee. I don’t bother writing those lengthy emails anymore. Instead I go straight to, “Vuoi prendere un caffè?” And we do.

Hugs, hugs and more hugs

3. Toccare (To touch). There’s a lot of hugging and kissing that goes on in business in Italy. Shaking hands is fine too, but once you’ve developed a rapport with someone a bacione (side to side hug with kisses) is common. From van drivers to restaurant owners to hotel proprietors, I find myself constantly hugging and kissing someone. Human touch is an important part of Italian culture and it makes a profound difference in how one senses other people. Somehow all that touching makes us all the more human.

4. Pazienza (Patience). Italians often use the word, patience, as a one-word declaration. When a work situation is difficult – or seemingly hopeless – someone will inevitably declare, “Pazienza“. In the past I might have said something like, “I don’t have enough patience for this”, as if I had some internal reservoir of patience that needed to be periodically filled, but declaring “patience” is a very different thing. It is a simple, one-word statement that patience must be practiced in this situation. A subtle difference that’s actually quite profound.

Patience, rest and un bel caffè
Patience, rest and un bel caffè

5. Piano, Piano (Slowly, slowly). Actually the meaning of piano, piano goes much deeper. Slowly, slowly is merely the literal translation. One of the most important aspects of virtually any type of work is moving forward at a steady pace, staying focused and knowing that things will come together in time. The phrase, piano, piano is used often by Italians. It is a way of saying that moving forward steadily (with pazienza) will eventually bring results. And that, of course, is so, so true.

6. Riposo (Rest). Recently, while hosting a small group tour for women at a countryside villa (where we stay for a fabulous week!), the villa’s owner looked me in the eye and said, “Pamela, ti devi riposare“, you have to rest. (She said it in that tone that made me truly listen.) Like many others, I have trouble stopping when I’m on a roll, but of course if we don’t take time to pause and rest our work suffers. Italians take rest time – riposo – seriously. So I went to my room and I rested. Because of course she was right.

7. Mangiare Insieme (To eat together). Of course it’s no surprise that Italians enjoy good food, but eating together is not just about the meal. The social aspect of sharing a table together, while enjoying good food, is a deep, inseparable part of Italian culture – that naturally includes work relationships. A couple of weeks ago we wrapped up our tour season for 2014 and since then we’ve been meeting up with our Italian work partners for lunches and dinners – not to talk business, of course, but rather to enjoy each other’s company … along with very, very good food.



Pamela Haack
Pamela Haack

Pamela Haack creates and hosts boutique-style, small group tours that are a combination of the very best of Italy: the exciting and the peaceful, the popular and the secret, the talked about and the never-heard-of-before. From art experts and operettas to authentic cooking classes and ancient Etruscans, Pamela helps visitors experience the spectacularly beautiful, endlessly interesting cities and countryside of Italy in an up-close and personal way – off the beaten strada.

She is also the author of Top 10 Favorite Etruscan Sites, as well as her popular blog, Off the Beaten Strada in Italy.

Pamela lives with her husband, Lou, in Umbria, Italy.

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