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Networking Italian Style

Updated: Jun 13, 2022

Like most everything in life, networking means different things in different cultures.

The culture dimension that has the biggest influence on networking behavior is called “Task vs. Relationship.”

You can see the definition of this dimension below.

I learned this cultural difference on my own skin (sulla pelle) when I lived and worked in Milan, Italy. Let me tell you a story about an experience that opened my eyes to the difference.

Shortly after I went out on my own as a free-lance corporate trainer, I was offered the opportunity to provide training courses in English for an Italian training company. I was ecstatic about the prospect of 42 training days a year. Even better, their offices were walking distance from where I lived!

I met with the owner, Paolo, and we agreed on the courses I would teach, the titles and content. He promised me a copy of the catalog and I got busy creating the courses. We met again when the catalog was ready and he assured me he would be in touch as soon as participants signed up.

So, I waited. Winter turned to Spring; Spring turned to Summer (well, I didn’t expect to teach in the Summer); Summer turned to Fall. Still nothing. I called Paolo once to ask how business was going. I even suggested that I accompany his salesperson on a sales call to pitch my courses, but he declined my offer.

Finally in November, I got a call saying that 4 people had signed up for one of my classes (I think it was Negotiating in English). I was thrilled! I taught the class on a Thursday and Friday. The participants were lovely, and we had a great time.

When I came out of the classroom on Friday at 5:00 pm, there was an “apero” going on, an informal drinks party. Some of the participants stayed for a drink and other instructors were there. I learned they held this apero every Friday. “Nice”, I thought.

My courses stayed in the training company’s catalog for another year. And the same thing happened. No call until late in the year. I think I might have taught two classes that year for a total of 4 days of training.

Needless to say, I was frustrated by this situation and also angry. I considered Paolo and his salespeople to be incompetent.

I realized my mistake years later. I didn’t understand that the Friday afternoon “apero” was a networking opportunity. My American “task orientation” told me that if I didn’t have a class to teach, I didn’t need to go to that place. It didn’t occur to me to go there just to build relationships. Showing up on a Friday afternoon when I hadn’t taught a class would have been just “hanging out.” This meant that for months I was “out-of-site, out-of-mind,” No one really knew me.

The Italian way would have been to show up for the apero once a month, or even every other week. That would have allowed the salespeople in the organization to get to know me, to get comfortable with me, to come to trust me. And that might have led to them recommending my courses to their clients.

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