There exists a strong, vertical hierarchy in French business culture. French bosses generally favour a dictatorial and authoritative leadership style. However, it is essential that you work successfully with all levels of the business organisation, despite the clear hierarchical structure. This said, only the most senior individuals can make the final decisions in business.
The French have an inherent sense of privacy and there is a definite distinction between business and personal life. Respecting this privacy is particularly important when working in France. In accordance with French business culture, relationships must be formed first, before business can begin.
Business correspondence in France is very impersonal in nature. Letters will start with a prefix alone (i.e., Monsieur) or with the prefix followed by a title (i.e., Monsieur le Ministre). Closing salutations will be replaced by an entire paragraph, which translated into English couldread, “I beseech you, sir, to accept the assurance of my most distinguished sentiments”. In order to avoid blunders, even French secretaries need specific training in how to address individuals, depending on their rank and the nature of the message.
Overall, the French respect a cautious, incremental approach to business relationships. This pervades all areas of their business culture, from correspondence to dress. It is advisable to be well prepared, with all documents translated and presented with the necessary supporting materials. If one is prepared to answer all questions in an articulate and logical manner, the French will be impressed by the value and quality of the company’s product or service – thus ensuring the development of a positive relationship.