Italy: Communication Style
by Going Global
Italians tend to be gregarious, expressive and animated. While they speak loudly and interruptions are to be expected, they tend also to be quite eloquent. There is rarely a moment of silence in the course of a conversation; Italians are rather uncomfortable with silence. Appropriate topics of conversation in the Italian workplace include Italian history, architecture, art and culture, sports (especially football/soccer), food and wine, and current events. It is advisable to avoid religion, politics and the Mafia, which is considered a negative stereotype of Italy. Personal questions on income are also inappropriate. On the other hand, Italians are quite keen to speak about their families.
Initial introductions should be formal. The handshake is the common form of greeting. People being introduced may grasp each other’s arms with their left hands at the same time. Italians prefer to be introduced by a third party rather than introducing themselves. It is expected to shake hands with everyone in a group. Eye contact should be direct and constant; to avoid eye contact gives the impression one is untrustworthy or is hiding something. Business cards are often exchanged following the handshake.
Non-verbal communication is extremely important in Italy, and it is quite acceptable to use one’s hands in conversation. Italians have very little concept of personal space and tend to stand quite close when talking. They are known for using more physical contact than most other Europeans during conversation. Once a relationship is formed, friends and acquaintances may give a kiss on both cheeks (even men) in greeting.
It is acceptable to demonstrate emotions, even in a business setting. To maintain reserve or detachment suggests disinterest, which appears unprofessional to Italians. Emotional outbursts are viewed as a positive demonstration of engagement with a project.