Crossing Cultural Boundaries in Negotiation with Italians

Notwithstanding the ever-growing degree of globalization, organizational behavior remains quite culture-specific. Priorities, models of interpersonal communication, and the views of normal differ substantially from nation to nation; this gives birth to dissimilar patterns and, consequently, can cause misunderstandings in international teams. A way to smooth those is to recognize the differences and consider them in negotiations, which the paper seeks to illustrate through the example of Italy.

Italian Cultural Values

One of the primary associations with the Italian people doubtlessly is their hedonistic approach to life; they enjoy all spheres of it and target to derive maximal pleasure from any activity. The natural consequence of such a position is that they will hardly agree to any unfavorable conditions, which, as Benetti et al. (2021) highlight, makes them egocentric to a certain degree in disputes. Along with this, an offer of anything an Italian loves can awaken deep interest in him or her, consequently adding to the probability of a mutually beneficial agreement.

However, the above paradigm predominantly is applicable to the relationships between Italians and foreigners. Within the nation, meanwhile, it is possible to proclaim the prevalence of collectivistic ideas. In other words, these people apparently appreciate the well-being of the entire society more in comparison with the interests of a particular individual. This is positive, in one respect, because such an approach makes businesses and institutions in Italy responsible to the population, enabling better control over their performance (Cleary Gottlieb, 2020). However, the priority of the common good can lead to suppressing personality and anti-humanistic government, which experience the country actually has.

Another specialty is that, being community-centered, Italians attach considerable value to social hierarchy and status. Presumably, this manifests their general conservatism, which, in turn, may result from the long-lasting cultural dominance of their ancestors in the region; simply stated, they are not quite used to multiculturalism as a phenomenon. In a combination, all of these factors result in the apparent inequality in most spheres of life, including business (Pastorelli & Stocchiero, 2019). Both management and negotiation styles, therefore, involve higher degrees of subordinance and formality in comparison with the typical American approaches.


At first sight, the above peculiarities of the Italian worldview seem to be poorly combinable. In fact, however, they serve as a base for several distinctive features, which are apparent in the ways the members of this nation normally negotiate. The root cause of all is their outstanding sense of belonging; it may manifest itself differently in various situations, but it always determines their behavior.

Thus, an Italian identifies himself or herself strongly with his or her social class or group. This determines the mentioned hierarchical structure of workplaces as well as the frequent choice of the distributive, or positional, negotiation strategy (Benetti et al., 2021). It means that all of the parties pursue their own interests and, consequently, seek to gain as much as possible from the potential contract, whose results they see as a certain fixed value.

Along with that, a firm or a joint venture also is a group to which an Italian can belong; acting in its favor, therefore, is correspondent to his or her collectivistic nature. In such a case, the most reasonable behavior lies in increasing the general payoff of the contract, in which each side has to invest a maximum of effort, so that the outcome grows proportionally. This model falls under the integrative, or principle, strategy of negotiation, where the value of the gain can change (Benetti et al., 2021). Such commonly beneficial bargains can improve the lives of all of their participants, which actually aligns quite well with the mentioned hedonism.

The above drives to the conclusion that the two negotiation strategies must be comparably popular with Italians. This assumption does correspond to reality; according to Benetti et al. (2021), “Italian negotiators are fairly equally spread” between the prototypes (p. 2). Which of them will be dominant in a certain case, may depend partly on the traits as well as experience of a particular individual, but external factors may play a role as well.

Specifically, it is worth noting that Italians appreciate trust and privacy, presumably, even more than Americans do. This is another form of belonging, as associating himself or herself with a particular cluster can make a person treat the members of other clusters with suspicion. As a result, Italians prefer to discuss meaningful issues with those whom they know personally, which can be a serious obstacle to multi-stage or large-scale negotiations.

Another peculiarity of the members of this nation is their close focus on appearance. They pay considerable attention to the way someone or something looks, regarding this as an essential measure of valuableness. Therefore, it may be challenging to build a relationship of trust with an Italian in case the interlocutor does not appeal to him or her. Presumably, this also can determine whether he or she opts for the distributive or principle strategy.


Considering all of the above, the behavior of Italians in negotiation can be both positional and integrative, apparently depending on who is talking to them. This allows assuming that the cornerstone of overcoming cultural barriers to an agreement with an Italian is respect towards his or her identity. Notably, it is unacceptable to offer such people anything contradictory to their own needs, preferences, or understanding of good. Being collectivists, they care about the interests of their group, which may be a class within their society or the entire nation in intercultural communication.

Italians are a bright example of how realizing and recognizing cultural differences can help overcome those. In other words, when creating multicultural teams, it is necessary to let people set their boundaries themselves instead of unification, in which way McFarlin & Sweeney (2017) actually define favorable conditions. Thus, negotiations with an Italian should not involve forcing foreign values on him or her. Instead, it is essential to interest him or her with the common goal, so that he or she desires to join the team. Each particular case apparently calls for narrower and deeper cultural research, but the basic principle of respecting the boundaries should remain unchanged. Such an approach not only favors diversity as well as equality, but also fosters trust. The latter, in turn, makes team members become closer, enabling building and managing productive workforce.


Benetti, S., Ogliastri, E., & Caputo, A. (2021). Distributive/integrative negotiation strategies in cross-cultural contexts: A comparative study of the USA and Italy. Journal of Management & Organization. Web.

Cleary Gottlieb. (2020). Italy and COVID-19 – Practical and legal guidance on key business issues. Web.

McFarlin, D., & Sweeney, P. (2017). International organizational behavior (2nd Ed.). Taylor & Francis.

Pastorelli, E., & Stocchiero, A. (2019). Inequalities in Italy. Web.

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