"Wait a minute, that's not what we were talking about!"
Ever thought about intercultural differences between the German and French working cultures? Read on for 4 examples you may have experienced yourself.
In an intercultural team, people sometimes unfortunately find themselves thinking in mental boxes:
- “German colleagues always want to keep to their schedule”
- “Our French colleagues will probably be late”
These prejudices, which fill our mental boxes, are present in our heads due to social stereotypes. Prejudices usually have a negative connotation, so we have to avoid them in order to cooperate harmoniously. We should not let them negatively influence our actions.
We think: It’s great to have a diverse team with intercultural differences, because it gives us different points of view that stimulate a promising discussion and open up other perspectives. And we can benefit from that ourselves as persons and also our projects.
The weakness of one is the strength of the other!
Both in Germany and in France there are many very well-known and successful companies.
Chanel, Jean Paul Gaultier oder Yves Saint Laurent: Due to these and many other fashion brands, the French work culture is world-famous:
BMW, Mercedes oder VW: The extremely successful German car industry shows the competence of German engineers:
As you can see, stereotypes do not stop here either. But what are stereotypes and why do we have to be careful when dealing with them?
No human being can be free of stereotypes. For example, we imagine the first encounter with a person from another culture. At first, it is easier to divide a group of people into certain categories than to enter the new situation unprejudiced and unknowing. In our minds, it takes much more work and time to form our own picture of the person. Stereotypes help us to have some kind of prior knowledge about them and thus make it easier to deal with them.
Caution is advised because each person is unique and has their own character traits that may be fundamentally different from familiar cultural stereotypes. It is essential to avoid a stereotype being negatively tainted and thus becoming a prejudice. Prejudices definitely have no place in harmonious intercultural cooperation.
In the following sections, we present 4 aspects that we have already encountered in our intercultural everyday life. But don’t forget: sometimes they can be true, and in other situations not at all. For this reason, the following scenarios should only be understood as guidelines for maintaining a professional, self-confident and empathetic approach towards French or German colleagues and business partners.
1. Well planned is half done ... right?
Our experience clearly shows that dealing with the daily agenda is different in an international team. In the French working culture, it is more common for agendas to be changed flexibly. For example, the order of the agenda items can shift spontaneously or an important topic can be taken up at short notice during a meeting.
In the work environment in Germany, work planning has a very high value: the agenda is strongly respected and rarely changed. The same applies more generally to the planning of project processes and to everyday work in general. (Inspired by Isabelle Demangeat in „Geschäftskultur Frankreich” 2014)
2. The tone makes the music
As an international company, we work successfully with French and German colleagues and business partners on a daily basis. The following points must be taken into account.
According to Isabelle Demangeat in „Geschäftskultur Frankreich” (2014), the adjectives “relationship-oriented” and “contextual” describe the communication style in the French working world very well. Colleagues often communicate intensively with each other, which can have a positive influence on their working relationship. People talk for a long time and quickly get to know the other person better.
Important details about the work that you might want to remember can be mentioned casually in the conversation.
For example, if the sentence “We should do XY” is uttered, this is to be understood as a concrete work order.
This order was given implicitly and is supposed to be understood correctly by the recipient.
In Germany, this type of communication is initially seen as a vague idea that is not yet fully developed. It is understood as a subject in need of discussion until a clear mission has been communicated. This can easily lead to misunderstandings. In German business culture one usually exchanges factual and precise information about one or more topics. When it comes to important topics, they are discussed and analysed in detail. A clear work order is given to those responsible.
can help to better understand business partners or colleagues and get a feel for their way of communicating.
It is a great way to show yourself in a personal light
It is better not to jump in at the crack of dawn, but to first ask how the other person is feeling.
3. Career entry: professional experience vs. degree
It is also worth mentioning that French employers place a lot of emphasis on a high level of education.
The French higher education system is based on two educational institutions: on the one hand, universities, on the other hand, the “Grandes écoles”, which are well-known in the country: highly respected elite universities. Graduates of these “grandes écoles” have a quicker chance to rise as managers in the company, as the name of such a university is worth its weight in gold on a CV.
In contrast, it is often more important to German employers that employees have professional experience. Graduates should also already have practical skills. For this reason, it is not uncommon for an entry-level employee to be asked to have several years of experience in a similar professional field, e.g. as a working student or through several internships. In addition, one should not forget that in Germany a lot of emphasis is placed on final grades. Every application must be accompanied by an overview of relevant grades from school and/or university. In France however, grades are less relevant for applications. (Isabelle Demangeat in „Geschäftskultur Frankreich” 2014)
4. Is brevity really key?
In meetings, the different way of professional intercultural communication plays an important role. In France, it often happens that people discuss opposing points of view and you can find yourself in the middle of a debate. In a situation like this, you should be sure to present your point of view clearly and argue it well. This can lead to French colleagues changing their minds and agreeing with you. Discussing different views about small details in meetings can seem long and repetitive to German colleagues.
German culture is more concerned with efficiency and productivity: German colleagues do not appreciate long meetings and prefer short, focused meetings.
Negotiations are usually analytical and fact-based. A well-researched presentation with clear graphics, empirical arguments and statistics is usually preferred and direct facts are most valued.
The decision-making process is usually slow but detailed. Emphasis is placed on getting all members of the team to agree to the project. Germans are detail-oriented and want to understand all points of view before coming to a conclusion. (Jochen Peter Breuer und Pierre de Bartha „Geschäftsbeziehungen erfolgreich managen” 2002)
When working in an intercultural team, misunderstandings can occur easily. As a Franco-German company, we work closely with French and German colleagues, business partners and clients on a daily basis. Therefore, we would like to provide you with some useful tips that can contribute to a harmonious and respectful cooperation. It is important for us to note that in this article we make generalised statements and reflect our subjective perception.
We hope you can see this article as an opportunity to try to understand your respective colleagues and partners in order to work successfully with them and make your international expansion a complete success.
Because, as we said before: one person’s weaknesses are another person’s strengths!
Let’s talk about another example next time: Differences between the German word ”Konzept” and the French ”Concept”.
Do you have questions about interculturality in the context of your internationalisation project?
We are happy to talk with you about it!