How powerful is France

International business in France

Published in International Business to go

Vive la France - France is not only the land of gourmets and joie de vivre, its neighbor is also Germany's most important trading partner with a domestic market of around 65 million consumers and a bridgehead to more than 100 million consumers in neighboring countries.

France and Germany are more than just neighbors. Both countries cooperate closely with each other and are strongly represented in the EU. The political turbulence and terrorist attacks of the recent past make us all the more affected. With the election of the new President Emmanuel Macron in May 2017, France is in a process of renewal.

Parlez-vous français?

The first obstacle when negotiating with French business partners is the language. May English be the world's number one negotiating language - in France it is not.

Due to the growing internationalization, the next generation of managers speaks increasingly English - and even German is on the advance in business. However, the protection of the French language is regulated by the state and communication is still mainly in French when doing business and negotiating - especially with older executives.

If you don't speak enough French, you should hire an interpreter in advance of the negotiations.

However, if you speak French and would like to use it in your negotiations, you should watch out for any stumbling blocks, so-called "false friends": The French "concours", for example, stands for competition and not for bankruptcy, but it does have "compromis" the same literal meaning as the German compromise, but is negatively understood as an admission.

And the "concept" in France is little more than a vague idea and not, as in German, an elaborated draft.

If the negotiations go into detail and the contract turns out to be complicated, it is always advisable to consult a French-speaking lawyer. Because French is determined by subtleties, ambiguities and the "sens caché", the hidden message of the discourse.

Often these subtleties can get lost in the language and misunderstandings arise between both parties.

The dress code: classic and elegant

The French are generally dressed classically and elegantly. Accordingly, one should avoid white socks and trendy colors when negotiating with the French and prefer classic, rather dark colors.

Appearance and appearance are very important in France, elegance is part of the business style.

Mutual misunderstandings

For German business people in France it is sometimes difficult to distinguish between openness and form, enthusiasm and distance. However, the fact that the French also have problems with their German interlocutors is often overlooked.

This is how they like to describe the nature of German managers Terms like sober, cool, dry, direct, not very committed and without esprit.

In France, on the other hand, bon esprit, conversation and commitment count. So be communicative, talk to the person you are talking to, and tell them about yourself.

The style in France is more associative than sober and people like to work creatively and communicatively. Elegance and eloquence in communication, paired with enthusiasm and a stringent logic - esprit cartésien - are therefore preferred to a technocratic, sober style of language and negotiation.

Do not be too direct in the course of the conversations and let yourself be Time to get to know each other. Invest in the relationship before moving on to business.

Confidential handling

Confidential dealings with business partners are only accepted in France among people of equal hierarchy. Restraint towards senior managers is appropriate.

In the case of regular cooperation, it is common for the interlocutors to call each other by their first names. However, according to convention, the "Sie" is often added to the first name.

This form of communication is rarely used in Germany. You are actually only in touch with a French person when this variant is formally offered to you. So stay with the "you" until the French partner offers you the "you".

Otherwise it can happen that your French business partner answers the question “On veut tutoyer?” (“Do we want to talk to you?”) With “Si vous voulez.” (“If you like.”).

Patience is required

Don't expect negotiations to get straight to the point. The French take their time - also in terms of appointments and punctual appearance. Half an hour grace period is common.

When you finally sit down together at the round table, figures and balance sheets are at the bottom for now. French managers love detours, they like to abstract and only become really concrete after an intellectual warm-up.

You plan the project briefly, but you take a long time to complete it and you are flexible. In contrast, German managers are used to planning for a long time in order to then orientate themselves closely to the project process and achieve the goal.

In the case of French negotiators, on the other hand, the exchange of ideas is often more important than the decisions.

They'll come later. This method is in complete contrast to the German and American approach, where the relevant details are clarified right at the beginning.

From the general to the details

The negotiation procedure almost always begins with discussions about general problems and possible strategies. First you agree on the purpose of the deal, then on the principles to be applied, then on the broad content and finally on the details.

The French manager likes to demonstrate a sense of inspiration and improvisation.

It can happen that he jumps back and forth between several topics for no apparent reason. This is either a sign that he is not sure of his position and wants to define it more precisely.

But it is also possible that he proceeds tactically and tries to find out how steadfast you are. Don't let the details distract you, concentrate on the essentials.

"Even if the hard facts hardly play a role at the beginning, you should have the key figures ready at all times"advises a German sales manager,"the French can jump from ethics to profit margins and discounts in a minute. Great attention is required here.“

The negotiation

A French marketing director describes the fact that French business partners sometimes have a hard time showing understanding of the German negotiation ritual: "Germans are often inflexible and always convinced that their point of view is the only correct one."

What bothers him most, however, is the lack of sensitivity for conversations that go beyond the pure content and factual level.

The French managers' tendency to abstract ideas is also reflected in the negotiation rhetoric.

Free speech is taught to them during their university education and is a high priority for every French manager. He also expects contradiction in this verbal duel. The aim is to solve the problems together in an intellectual discourse.

Still, your French partner will persist in his way of seeing things and not make any concessions until you do him have convinced you of your arguments with flawless logic.

So let yourself be surprised to a certain extent during the course of negotiations and projects and do not stick to specific processes one hundred percent.

Flexibility is the key to success here. Assume that the agenda as well as the participants and contents of the meeting can be changed. Sufficient time reserves are recommended, as interruptions should be taken into account.

Last but not least, it is advisable to regularly summarize the negotiation and project process.

This ensures that you define the current course of the process together with your French partner: Flexibility, composure and process orientation - these are qualities that he will appreciate.

Rhetoric as self-expression

In contrast to German-speaking culture, rhetoric and discourse are not just a technical instrument for the French manager.

Rather, they serve for self-expression. There are also subtleties in letters that are often written in French. French business documents, for example, often contain expressions of politeness that seem exaggerated.

But they are common because they come from the tradition of the French written language. If the intellectual discourse of the negotiation is successful, however, the French manager lays down Value on a coherent contract with precise definitions.

Paper battles, characteristic of negotiations with Americans, are not to be feared. That said, a French manager usually accepts detailed changes to the contract as things move forward.

The following example, based on the establishment of a company, can illustrate this:

A smaller medium-sized company from the B2B sector want to expand. The responsible division manager is reluctant to go into the obvious growth markets.

“Why not start doing business in France, especially since the market is relatively large and the country is our neighbor?” Thinks the division manager. However, he has the problem that he is not particularly proficient in the French language and only has a rudimentary knowledge of the structures of the French economy.

However, he has read that he only has a chance on the French market if he “Frenchizes” himself and one own sales office founds theirs Based in France Has.

After careful consideration, the division manager decides to step across the border and begins preparing for the establishment of a sales branch.

He succeeds in founding the company in France after finding an office in Paris. Now he still needs sales staff and, because of the high level of bureaucracy in France, two bilingual staff for administration.

He finds her in Paris, albeit for a relatively large amount of money.

With two administrative employees, two salespeople and a nice office, things can finally start after five months. The division manager is convinced that his salespeople will now generate orders quickly.

In the meantime he has made one of the two salespeople the managing director of his French subsidiary. He hopes it's motivation to Success of the company contributes.

As soon as the tasks are done, the French managing director explains to his German boss that he is negotiated salary too low especially since the promised bonuses did not materialize due to a lack of sales.

But he firmly expected it and it would not be his fault that the French authorities were working so slowly and that French partners might need a little longer to award a project.

The German division manager is outraged and resigns his employee.

To prevent worse things from happening, he and three employees immediately go to Paris. A bailiff is supposed to help open the office and warehouse.

However, the latter thinks that he can only take action on the instructions of the French managing director. A vicious circle! The division manager can only clarify the matter with considerable expenditure of time.

The example shows that one is heavily dependent on local know-how even in a country as close as France.

The following points are essential:

  • You need one local and competent contact in Francewho knows the habits. This applies to legal, commercial and other customs.
  • Be flexible and expect surprises.
  • Don't put too much emphasis on it planned processes. Flexibility is the order of the day.
  • Take yourself enough time and stay calm during interruptions.
  • You should always use the Status quo summarize in order to ensure that your counterpart has the same level of factual and communication status as you.

Germany and France - so close and sometimes so far.

France is a good example of how neighboring countries can differ considerably from one another despite being geographically close. If you consider the existing differences, little stands in the way of doing business in France and with the French.

French savoir vivre and elegance as well as German primary virtues are not a bad combinationif you take both with a bit of humor and wit. It is not for nothing that France is Germany's most important export partner. Bonne chance!