How to cultivate partnerships with your French colleagues at a distance.
Germany and France – so close and yet so far. Many German businessmen see the French market as a challenge. The reason is often, that cultural differences are underestimated due to the close geographic location, although the fact is that both cultures possess very different mindsets and work ethics. Once this is understood you can not only find outstanding synergies, but can also have a lot of fun while working together (and you don’t have to hide in the cellar to have a good laugh, as often found in Germany… ).
The following is a small contribution to a topic that we are often asked about in our seminars: managing at a distance.
If you have established a good working relationship with one or more French colleagues, you have “capital” that you should under no circumstances neglect. Not only do you have a pleasant working relationship, but you also have a local confidant that can keep you up to date about news, strategic decisions and “Scoops”. You can also confidently test your own ideas according to his feedback. Here are a few hints for cultivating such relationships:
- Invest in relationship efficiency
According to German criterion, everything needs to offer a clear use. It is for this reason that you should view contact cultivation as a very important indirect advantage:
The time you invest in it always pays out in full in the end. Your colleague will warn you about the backgrounds for the behaviour of other co workers, get something done for you, warn you when something is going to be risky for you or your company, and so on! He will not do it for the cause, but for you!
- Always keep in contact
One of the most important tools for this is the telephone. It is widely used in France to exchange information or cultivate contacts. It is for this reason that telephone bills in French branch offices are often significantly higher than in German ones.
You should “keep a finger on the pulse” (“prendre la température”) at least once a week if possible by picking up the phone and speaking the magic words “Alors quoi de neuf?“ (“Hey, what’s new?“).
Most French conversation partners will reply to this by telling you what keeps them busy at the moment, how they are doing or what recent event has made a big impression on them. In this way, a game of ping-pong begins: Both expect the other side to pick up on the ball and return it. Because the other side is busy or under stress, you may receive a short answer, in which case you call back later.
- Just send a personal E-mail now and then
Surprise your French co workers by sending an email that contains nothing “official”. For example a personal joke or a hard riddle. The more often you laugh together and exchange social topics, the more you will profit from the positive sides of French culture. As a positive side effect you will have lots of fun working together!
- Stay authentic
This type of contact cultivation may not, particularly in business, be for everyone. Especially since you are more used to staying “businesslike” in Germany. It is therefore very important not to play-act but to stay authentic, otherwise this is not likely to work.
- Arrive a night early
Never miss the opportunity to offer a dinner the night before a meeting or after an official appointment to exchange pleasantries… There is no need to have a guilty conscience as a positive usage is often the result and it’s also a lot of fun!
- “Send the Elevator back”
“Renvoyer l’ascenseur” (“Quid pro quo”, or “you scratch my back I scratch yours”): This very popular turn of phrase in France means nothing else but to repay a favour that was done for you. If one of your French colleagues has problems, maybe you can offer him advice or show sympathy. If he gives you information, you should repay the gesture later if not immediately. This works especially well in France as it shows prestige and power to be the first informed (“Scoops).
About our guest author: Alexander Wurz is expert in intercultural management and the owner of Open-i-Consulting. He has devised and managed a large number of intercultural consulting and training projects worldwide for multinational companies. Alexander worked on several M&A consulting projects on the ‘human side of integration’. Besides being a teacher of intercultural management at several European universities, he is a well-known keynote speaker and consults at international conferences. This article is an excerpt from the book „Deutsch-französische Geschäftsbeziehungen erfolgreich managen“ (GABLER)
Serviceplan International invites you to take a joint look at the French market, broaching the issues of current developments and business opportunities as well as diving deeper into the consumer landscape and the French way of doing marketing. Serviceplan International Roadshow France // 8 June 2016 – 2 pm // House of Communication in Munich – If you like to join our event please contact our organisation team at firstname.lastname@example.org.