When you have a meeting in France or with a French company it is important to prepare and to take into account that you are visiting another country. As mentioned above, the French are fond of their country and can come across as rude to people from other nations. Therefore you should take the following details into account while preparing for a meeting.
Before the meeting you need to confirm the appointment by phone and by e-mail. Do not book your time schedule very tightly, because it is very likely that the meeting will take longer than planned. This applies especially in the south of France. The further south you go in France, the less punctuality will be of importance. The meeting will start with some small talk. If you would start by talking about business right away, you would be considered rude by the French (Interview with Stomboli).
Generally speaking, a business meeting in France is not held to achieve a certain goal, as is the case in many other nations. In France, the meeting is held to exchange information, exchange opinions and to debate things. The decision will be made later by the top of management. Overall, meetings are chaotic and not structured. Although politeness is expected, taking your cell phone with you or expressing very strong opinions during a debate is accepted.
In general the French meetings are different than meetings elsewhere. Therefore it is important to know what common use is and what to expect.
French meetings appear disordered; as there’s a lot of overlapping talking, with participants interrupting each other and people coming and going. It further can be seen that leaders can speak in long verbose monologues. Because of this, meetings are usually used to pass general information, to give out assignments or to invest in relations.
To constitute a binding agreement in French’s business culture, a final contract signed by both parties is key. The importance of a signed contract is not only a legal matter, but a political one as well; it confirms a commitment between partners. The contracts themselves are lengthy and spelled out in terms and conditions for core agreements and any eventualities. Before signing a contract, it’s wise to seek out legal consul, but do not bring a lawyer to the negotiations. Once signed, the French can be expected to honour the contract in full. However, when circumstances change, or now ideas emerge, they’ll be open-minded about revising the contract. Though the logic and argumentation of these revisions must surpass those that formed the base of the former contract.
Before communicating in French, give them a measure in your mastery; if you’re having trouble, you’ll be helped out. The French, in general, value logic, tact and diplomacy during communication. Avoid being exaggerative and direct. During a conversation you’ll be closely listened to the contents of any argument, and be probed into, if these appear illogical or unclear. It is not necessary to be agreed upon, it is valued when people have a strong composure and you’ll be expected that you point out any illogical or vague details in their own arguments. If you are having a discussion with several Frenchmen, they might start speaking amongst themselves, this is to make sure everybody, on their side of the table, is on the same level of understanding.
Though the above text might imply that the French are relaxed, the opposite is true. Your arguments will be interrupted if any flaws are noticed, and it can be quite difficult to keep up with the speed of the French language. It nevertheless pays off to stay concentrated on the arguments used.
The French will rarely make decisions during negotiations or meetings. Meetings are considered as an opportunity to exchange information and discussing the reasoning of them. Decision-making is done by the senior executives of the company, based on what’s best for the organisation as a whole. During decision-making, every detail that has been addressed will be analysed so it will receive a correct follow up. As a consequence, it will take quite some time before you receive any form of answer or agreement.