French Communication Styles

The way in which you say something in France is almost as important as what is actually said.

There is a great love of and respect for elegance in the use of language and the sophisticated presentation of ideas is raised to an art form. A sense of national pride makes it difficult to listen to the language being spoken badly (or even worse to have to read poorly constructed French!) If you speak poor French, it may these days be better to do it in English.

Debate in France can often be seen as highly confrontational by those from a non-confrontational background. In France, the drawing of distinction is almost an intellectual goal – a goal which will help to move the process forward. Building on similarities is not seen as such a positive.

During discussions, interruptions will often occur, with other parties in the conversation joining in and emotions can seem to be running high. This animated, somewhat theatrical style is, again, viewed as conducive to reaching the end results.

The French admire the logical exposition of well defined ideas and when listening can be heard making such comments as – ‘it’s not logical’, which is a good indication that problems lie ahead. Such a comment might be more accurately interpreted as ‘I don’t see the logic of your argument, therefore I can’t buy it.’

Written business French is extremely stylised and formal with an etiquette which can seem anachronistic in translation. However, it is important that anything sent in writing is rigorously checked, as the ability to produce correct written language is seen as a sign of intelligence and good education.

A brief overview of some key concepts to consider when doing business in France

Written and Produced by Keith Warburton

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France represents both a challenge and an opportunity from a business perspective. It is a large modern economy with a highly educated workforce, a sophisticated consumer base and a solid industrial base of successful companies spread across a range of industries. France is also a country where protectionist policies have proven very hard to remove and where change comes slowly at the macro level.

Recent political changes might indicate that France has recognised the need for a new vision for the country to help propel it into the future. Indeed, we have recently seen the strange sight of France standing up as a guardian of free trade and globalisation whilst the USA looks to retreat into a more isolationist and protectionist approach – a strange situation from a historical perspective.

It certainly seems that France is at a crossroads and only time will tell which route the country choses to take. In the interim, France remains too big an economy to ignore. If you are not doing business in France at the moment you should probably be looking at entering the market in the near future and this country profile is designed to help you understand the cultural landscape you will find when working with French colleagues or customers.

The French have a distinct and unique approach to many aspects of working life and anybody considering doing business in France would be well advised to research some of the specifics of French business culture before embarking on any commercial activities.

This country profile provides an overview of some of the key aspects of French business culture in a concise, easy to follow-format. The document includes information on:

  • Background to business
  • Business Structures
  • Management style
  • Meetings
  • Teamwork
  • Communication
  • Women in business
  • Entertaining
  • Top tips