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Meeting Etiquette in France: The rules

Meetings come in a variety of forms, and are more important than ever in business today. There are the everyday office meetings, board meetings, and seminars. Meetings can now be face-to-face, by teleconference, video-conference, or online via the Internet. Meetings are a common form of corporate life in France.

As you will be traveling to and from a foreign country, it is essential that you recognize the value of planning for a meeting, according to the principles of proper etiquette. Deciding on the contents of the meeting and the appropriate negotiation strategies should focus on the cultural habits and customs of the country. The appropriate steps should be taken in preparing an agenda and it is advisable to circulate agendas in advance to ensure everyone’s preparedness. Always double check that the facilities you require for the business meeting are available and ready to use. Presentations should be well-prepared, comprehensive, clear, well-written, informative and presented in a formal, rational, professional manner – always appealing to the intellect of the French.

The rules

As with any other international business behavior, respect for the national business culture will improve your chances of achieving your business objectives in France. This starts with the way you conduct your business meetings – appointments should be arranged a couple of weeks in advance and confirmed before their scheduled day as a gesture of good business etiquette.
Once you arrive in your French counterpart’s office it is good practice to give your business card to their secretary so that they can log your arrival. Your business cards should ideally be printed in both English and French. Attention to detail is generally much appreciated in France and having a dual language business card is a great opportunity for you to show your attention to detail too. Once you have exchanged business cards with your counterpart, you should examine their card carefully, before you put it away. If you are considering printing your business cards in French, make sure that you state a) your position within your organization in French and b) your university degree, for example if it is at masters or doctoral level.

Usually, the initial minutes of a French business meeting are used to reaffirm the main purpose of the meeting and to deal with any questions before the main meeting commences. Make sure that you state your business intentions directly and clearly since meetings follow a rigid format with a detailed agenda. During your first business meeting, try to remain respectful and welcoming, bearing in mind that your French counterparts need time to build trust in you and your organisation. The French do have a habit of direct and probing questions, so don’t be offended and offer your plans for a carefully considered proposal – remember they like attention to detail. Be prepared to expand on the details of your proposal. It might seem as if the business discussion becomes an intellectual exercise, this is because the French like a full understanding of the logic behind it. Since they prefer to concentrate on the long-term objectives, make sure you have considered these in your proposal.

The French will judge you on your ability to demonstrate your intellectual faculties and this would usually mean discussing polar views and placing you in the middle of a rigorous debate. If you are able to reason and make yourself clear you will earn respect from your business partners. If you have differences don’t let it worry you, since as long as you can justify your views this will help your counterparts to see that you are well briefed and prepared as well as serious about your intentions. Although the French are happy to be convinced of new ideas as a consequence of debate, they are not likely to accept anything that deviates from their cultural norms.

As mentioned in other sections of this guide, it is strongly recommended that you learn basic French phrases and use them whenever possible in your meetings. Your French language efforts will be much appreciated and remembered however, if you can’t speak French it is advisable to confirm if your counterparts are fluent in your language or in English to facilitate your communications and if necessary consider using an interpreter.

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