Friday, May 22, 2009

"Piccolo atto di rispetto"


If you have been to a formal business dinner in Italy, you know the importance of the correct seating arrangements. I have seen a caucus break called during the actual business meeting for our Italian hosts to work on the correct and appropriate dinner arrangements. Cultural traditions and formalities such as this keeps me interested and learning.

A couple years ago, my Italian business partners did a "piccolo atto di rispetto" (Italian for “small act of respect”) that truly impressed me. My wife, Barbara, was traveling with me on business to Italy for the first time and was invited to join the dinner event. While she did not know at the start of dinner, but she was seated at the top guest table position (that would be the seat to the right of the highest ranking leader from the host company). This sent a clear message to all those attending the dinner that she was the guest of honor. My hosts took the time to consider that I had been working with them for many years and had my time in that seat. For that evening, I was in the number two guest position (to the left of the host). Barbara was served first, approved the vino and was treated with great respect.

Upon returning to the states from that trip, I have always considered the importance of the small things we can do as leaders to demonstrate respect to our teams, customers and suppliers.

Have you experienced small lessons such as this that changed the way you act in the future?

12 comments:

Dave Waters said...

This is also a great message in regards to understanding different cultures.

Steve Stokes said...

Interesting story, John. I appreciated you sharing it.

David said...

For a department party we, the management team, decided to be the waiters and waitresses - serving the team who had served us so well in creating great results for the year. It was a great party and no one has ever forgotten it! And we had great fun doing it!

PS - we dropped the roll playing after dinner and joined the fun :-)

MUAZU YAHAYA IMAM said...

As an African it is really an amazing story and agreat one. I hope and wish to be part of this epoc gathering in the nearest future
GREAT LEADERSHIP AND EXCELLENT FOLLOWERSHIP, KEEP IT UP

Dario Cabianca said...

Thanks for sharing this, John.

As an Italian working in US I always appreciate when people traveling to Italy say good things about my country.

Which part of Italy did you travel to?

Michael Beason said...

We have always maintained certain small traditions that we associate with integrity.

1. Before we start a meeting we confirm those that we expected who are there and those that are not. We confirm everyone present or not so the entire group knows that integrity has been maintained.

2. When someone leaves, we take great care to be involved in helping them make the transition, we have them speak to everyone in the group so everyone can wish them well and vice versa. If they have to find another job we help. We do all this very openly so everyone can experience integrity in the passing.

3. When someone has a complaint about someone else, we train everyone to refuse to be "an ear" for this and ask the person to share their complaint with the person they have the complaint with. Conflicts that cannot be resolved are facilitated but we make a point to not take responsibility away from those in the conflict for solving the problem.

When these small rituals and other s are following, a group experiences integrity. Integrity in this case means "complete and whole" but in common terms it means, "We can be counted on to do the right thing."

Salvatore Perna said...

Hi John, your short story reminded me when I served in the Italian Army as an Officer. During the 5-months training period we studied lots of military subjects, but among them there was one completely different. It was called "educazione formale" (sounds like "formal education" in English) and was about the correct way of disposing people around a table at dinner, the correct way of disposing people inside a car, the correct colour of flowers to choose in the different situations, and so on. Needless to say, It was the only exam I was rejected (I redid the exam a second time!)

Gianluca Poscente said...

John,
I am italian and I think your wife would be the guest of honor in that dinner in all the places she would be sitted on.
However you're right, you don't need to do great things to demonstrate respect, just to consider the other the way you love to be considered.
Kind regards.
Gianluca

Elizabeth c said...

Hi John,
You were right, I did like this story. Cultural understanding and respect is of the utmost importance in therapy as well as in business.

Alberto Martinez said...

John, as the business goes more global is imperative for everyone to understand different, cultures, I had the opportunity to live in Italy, buy my self coming for a Latin country (Mexico in this case) the cultures are very similar, now, the cultural chuck came going in to Asia, which is completely different from anything I had experience before, they way to sit into a dinner table or even more important in a negotiation and knowing this situation you a the leader if of a negotiating team can take this as an advantage.
So I guess everybody should get more to the idea of when, to kiss, shake hands or bow.

Terry Egan said...

There is a good book, that I recomend. It is The power of small, (why little things make all the difference). It is by Linda Kaplan Thaler and Robin Koval. I won it as a door prize at a business networking event last week.

Happy Reading!
Terry Egan
Sourcing and S/C Consulting

V I N C E N Z O MAIORANO said...

Dear John,

I am Italian and working in Germany as a consultant.
I am in contact with Germans since 8+ years and I live in Munich since 2,5.

In this time I could learn how my culture, habits, way to behave and to work are different, sometimes a lot, from German ones, even if just Alps mountains separate our countries.

Social or working events put “you” in the position to have to understand, that "your" way to think is not the right one, and that the one abroad is not a false one.
They are just different and as such, they have to be both respected.

Just deal with people thinking that persons=humans.
We have to respect our counterpart firstly as person and then for his/her position.
Even more if she is a Lady.

Who would not give the best position to the wife of his most important "co-worker"?!

Best regards
Vincenzo

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