Cultural differences in business

"Wait a minute, that's not what we were talking about!" Did you know "Konzept" is not the same as "concept"?

“Let’s talk about the concept on Thursday.”

You have certainly heard a colleague say such a sentence at the end of a meeting. Just this much: it can cause misunderstandings when you are working in an intercultural team! For instance, the German “Konzept” is not the same as the French “concept”. Whether you’re working in Germany or in France, your French colleagues may understand this term completely differently than your German colleagues do.

When German colleagues hear the sentence “Let’s talk about the concept on Thursday”, they usually understand it as a work order. It is natural for them to start working on a concept for the topic under discussion. Most likely, a first draft of an elaborated concept proposal will then be available for discussion in the Thursday meeting. This preliminary work is seen as good preparation and a basis for the meeting to proceed seamlessly and on the basis of information and facts.

At this meeting on Thursday, French colleagues are surprised, probably even a little offended. Because the term “concept” has a different meaning for them. In the French working world, the creation of a “concept” is understood as a kind of brainstorming with different participants. It is more about listening to the ideas of all participants, discussing them, and then working out a solution together. Without further explanation, the French colleagues will think that their opinion on this topic was not wanted and will feel ignored or excluded.

According to our experience, it is rather negative in the French working culture if a finished concept in the German sense is already brought to the meeting. The French colleagues will then think:

“The work has already been done”

They will feel like there is no longer any reason for a joint discussion at this point. And they may even be disappointed that their ideas could not be included in the concept.

Let’s turn the tables now: The French colleagues did not bring a concept to the meeting, while the Germans instinctively expected it. So they notice it negatively and think for example:

“The colleagues didn’t make any effort, now all the work is up to us”

In this situation, of course, neither party is to blame. It is important that intercultural teams openly discuss the expectations of all parties involved. So here the term “concept” should have been defined together in the team or concrete tasks and goals should have been set in order to avoid misunderstandings and promote harmonious cooperation.

Would you like to learn more about cultural differences and possible misunderstandings in intercultural teams? Discover our series of articles!

Do you have questions about interculturalism in the context of your internationalisation project?

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