April 19, 2007

Uncertain rules

The Americans came, looked about, and then stooped down to sniff. At base of the lovely and enchanting flowers, they smelled something dark and dank, obscure, indefinite – unsure of what it was, they moved on in search of greener fields. In other words, AT&T put forth an offer to acquire a controlling share of Telecom Italia, only to suddenly pull out, citing incertezza sulle regole (uncertain rules) as the reason -- or at least this is what the papers say.

In Italy the rules are never clear and straightforward and foreign investors don’t have the time and/or patience to figure them out. There are two ways to look at this complex area in terms of cross-cultural tools. One is by examining communication styles – our low context one in contrast to Italian high context style. The other is where the cultural value of rules lies along a spectrum that runs from their universal application to an orientation towards varying rules according to particular situations.

Context: (click here for a presentation of context in communication). In Italy rules often operate differently in different contexts and these subtle distinctions are really only accessible to Italians. In the end, only an Italian can understand how a rule can or should be interpreted in any given situation, depending on its context – extremely frustrating for foreigners!

Rules: (click here for a presentation of rules and their particular or universal application.) As one newspaper noted, it was not only the “uncertain rules” themselves that drove the Americans away, but the uncertain terrain on which new rules might be formed, undefined environmental “obstacles” coming from the government currently in power that could invent new rules to separate TLC services from their management. Transparency was also an issue as AT&T delved deeper into Telecom’s papers, or tried to. The problem being that these new rules only came about after the American offer, not before, as a way to lay a level playing ground for all – very uncertain terrain indeed that unsteadies the foreign investor and topples the best of plans.

A domani,

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