Excusez-moi, Monsieur… Communication in French Business Culture
January 9, 2017
January 9, 2017
Mademoiselle? Call a young woman that now in a French workplace and you will probably be frowned upon, especially if you are talking to a feminist. France “bid adieu” to “mademoiselle” back in February of 2012, no longer seeing a need to differentiate between a woman who is married and one who is not.
The rules of communication in the French business culture are simple: show respect, be courteous and be aware of the “Eiffel Tower” hierarchy.
Corporate communication is much more formal in French business culture, using Monsieur (M.) and Madame (Mme.). Managing communication in France consists of diplomacy while remaining courteous. Ever heard that the French were rude? That is because they are not reluctant to be direct about what they think or feel. They are also not afraid of conflict with their co-workers, meaning that speaking their minds tends to come easily to them, even in the workplace.
The “Eiffel Tower” Hierarchy
The “Eiffel Tower” management structure consists of firm separations between those in higher positions and the rest of the company. Do not be shocked if feedback goes about in a vertical manner rather than a horizontal one when trying to get answers to any questions you may have. It is all about the “chain of command”. In a French company, having access to information is a significant basis for authority and supremacy. This usually makes it challenging to acquire fundamental information.
When communicating in this hierarchy system, remember to be formal when speaking to elderly people and those in higher positions. With those of lower and equal rank, it is more acceptable to keep it casual, but make sure you are greeting and addressing them in accordance with your existing relationship.
French Business Culture & Decision Making
Decision-making is prone to be delayed by this meticulous corporate ranking and exclusivity of administration in French business culture. Usually, there is a lot of policy to get through; so how do you cut through it? Networking. The “réseau” (network) you are part of can help give you with “special treatment” or advantages in your professional or personal life.
It can also help you advance sooner when doing business in France. Once again, this is because many businesses in France will have a very visible hierarchy that is frequently made up of a complex network of cliques. The younger generation is trying to break free from this hierarchy system by implementing more open-minded concepts and being flexible to change.
Taboos are rare in French business culture and social environment, despite the seemingly strict hierarchy. But do keep in mind the following two points. First, always attempt to speak French, do not simply start a conversation in English. If the conversation continues in English, do not overrate the person or group’s level of capability and understanding of the language. Second, if you are exchanging “les bises” (double-kisses, one on each cheek) do not reach out to shake their hand.
Do’s and Don’ts
Still interested in business with the French? Then one more thing to keep in mind is to stay clear of demanding sales strategies. Do not pressure them into making hasty decisions. Hostile selling methods will not work with them. During a business meeting, be ready for a lot conversation and swapping of information. Remember to be patient because decisions are not often made in the first meeting.
Be sure to arrive completely ready even to initial meetings with sharp ideas and well thought out arguments. Aim to be on time to these meetings, but being 5 minutes late is alright. If you are running 10-15 minutes, call to let them know. After 20-minutes late, you should reschedule the meeting.
As the largest country in the European continent, thus also the most diverse with over 66 million inhabitants, its strategic location makes it a central point for connecting with the rest of the world. Both the location and current economic status of France are great elements that can support an international brand, local business or the expansion of your business on a global scale. What makes the French business culture so great to work with is the French peoples’ level of respect and courtesy amongst each other in the workplace. It is also nice to work with their laid-back approach when it comes to meetings and work hours; full time being typically 35 hours a week. Despite the hierarchy, with younger management and startups rising, working with the French proves to be flexible and beneficial.
Gisel Olivares, Content Editor + Creator + Curator. Her online business, GeeOlives, provides social media management, copywriting and editing, web customization and development, and graphic design, among other related services to small businesses, nonprofits, and sustainable brands. I have a love for languages, traveling, social media, and writing. I am fluent in English and Spanish, and still working on perfecting my French while living in France for almost three years.