The cooperation between German and French is often taken for granted, particularly because of the “ friendship” sealed between the two countries fifty years ago. Yet, many cultural differences between the two countries can be noted in the workplace and as a result can turn into misunderstandings. Many studies have established that the culture, drawn from a historical, geographical, religious and beliefs context, have an impact on the relationships between individuals in the workplace. It is therefore primordial to identity the relationships that both German and French maintain with the notion of time, hierarchy, and management as well as the preferred modes of communication and reasoning. To better illustrate, the case of Airbus is an excellent example of a difficult but successful collaboration between French and Germans. Indeed, when the project was launched, several problems related to cultural differences emerged from this joint organization. Despite communication and organizational problems, and a different vision of work, Airbus was successfully launched. Indeed, without the imagination of the French and the rigor of the Germans, the project would not have been achieved. This paper will highlight the influence of German and French cultures in the workplace listing many differences in terms of organization, management and communication.
Germans come from a productivist society, where the community and security are important. According to Gilles Untereiner, these characteristics can be explained due to the history such as the Second World War. The haunting of an authority figure would justify the German’s communal instinct. In Germany, collective interests come before those of the individual, and is also applied in the workplace. Indeed, German do not move forward until everything is secure. The culture of the people is its DNA. Even the younger generations who did not experience the war or the fall of the Wall are conditioned by a prudential approach. Thus, the Germans are characterized by their efficiency, their constancy, their obstinacy but also by a great specialization which forces them to cooperate. They rely on a group, which distinguishes them from the French. The French, meanwhile, are representative of an individualist and productivist society. They favor individual initiatives rather than collectiviste decisions, sometimes at the risk of energy loss. Indeed, versatility confirm an intellectual flexibility. According to Gilles Untereiner, it thus prevail over specialization, considered as “ reductive of free will”. The French are also characterized by their tendency to test, to innovate, and to constantly create by taking risks (Noll, 2013).
As seen above, it can be noted that there are important cultural differences between Germany and France. It is therefore essentiel to see how these differences impact the workplace and the collaboration of projects between French and German. Throughout a presentation for the launch of a new product, the management of a project will differ. Indeed, a German will try to convince by demonstrating the reliability of the project, the risks almost non-existent as well as its profitability. Factual and financial factors will be taken into consideration. In contrast to the Germans, Frenchs will focus on the innovative nature of the project and will go into a great demonstration to present their revolutionary idea. They are in a logic of seduction and do not focus on the financial and technical parameters. Although many grey areas persist, solutions will be found along the way. There is therefore a different way of approaching a project that can create tensions and even lead to a failed collaboration. It is thus crucial to understand both German and French modes of communication and reasoning in order to better work with both cultures.
Edward T. Hall proposes the theory of low and high context cultures. Germany would be a low- context country. Indeed, individuals need much explicit information as they can in order to communicate and interact. This style of direct communication is characterized by the fact that the content of the message is transmitted by the use of the right amount of words. Nonverbal or emotional ties have almost no importance, they simply favor the use of explicitly expressed information to convey a message. In fact, German communicate with clear and concise objectifs in the workplace. For example, “ French are often surprised by the lack of private discussions at the workplace as if there were a clear separation between work time and leisure time as well as a stricter separation between professional behavior and private social behavior” (Davoine, 2013). Meanwhile, France is considered as a higher context country, and its communication register mainly on implicit information (SteveC, 2018).
In French culture, the relationship between interlocutors plays an important role and gives to the communication a strong context, though often not expressed. It thus require the listener to carefully note what is said and implied, and to observe how the message is presented, which requires more effort of interpretation. The different methods of communication illustrated above have a direct impact on the notion of agenda, partnerships and time between Germans and French. In Germany, a meeting will be held in accordance with the agenda, which is less the case in France, where there will be a tendency to deviate from the subject. In fact, French will try to solve varying problems during a meeting rather than sticking to the initial agenda.
Furthermore, the notion of partnership in France will only happen if it involves complicity; while in Germany it involves a community of goals governed by the benefit of a common interest. In France, the human relationship will tend to be more important than the goal to be treated. Finally, the Germans have a different conception of time than French do. According to Hall and Reed-Hall, there are two cultural types of time perception, which they call “ monochronic” and “ polychronic”. While monochromic suggests that all actions are followed by a linear time, and a market for scheduling activities, polychronic suggests that activities are developed according to other factors such as biological time, making time more qualitative. The French then follow a polychronic system while Germans follow a monochronic system (Davoine, 2013).
In Germany, It is important to not waste time by taking long breaks, endless meetings or extended lunchs. Indeed, it is about being punctual, and use work time by being productive. If work is a fundamental element in German’s life, its is a question of producing quickly and use free time for family and leisure. It is rare to stay late at work as it is in France. For example, the idea of taking long meals or breaks are seen as unproductive while staying The Germans scrupulously respect schedules and deadlines. For example, they plan their tasks depending on the time given to them. French, meanwhile, adapt their time according to the amount of tasks they have. In addition to the methods of communication that greatly impact the notion of time, partnerships and agenda in the workplace, the hierarchy also plays an important role. According to Hofstede, French organization is described as a “ human pyramide” marked by a strong hierarchical style of management. Indeed, the final decision is made by the top of the pyramid, and greatly affect the relationship between an employee and its supervisor (Davoine, 2013). This mode of organization is partially due to the French’s political system. According to Hofstede, the German organization is called “ well-oiled machine” describing a relatively flatter organisation.
As a federal organization, the hierarchy is more decentralized and the decision making process is done as a group. Thus, the power distance is shorter than in France (Davoine, 2013). In Germany, the role of top managers is to define the structures, to provide the necessary resources, and to supervise as a whole. They primarily remain available in case of higher level of expertise. While delegation is about responsibility and decisions in Germany, it mainly means delegation of tasks in France (Davoine, 2013). It is therefore important to know who has the most influence in the supervision of a project in both countries.
Many factors such as the role of history, language and education are crucial to explain these cultural differences found in the workplace. Indeed, as seen above, the role of history ingrained in behaviors and can be visible at work. While the French are less afraid of the future and unforeseen situations, the Germans perceive the future as perilous and random. Education is also a major factor in understanding the cultural risks in the management of Franco-German relationships. The educational system and fundamental values vary greatly from one side to anther, highlighting different ways of understanding work situations and socialization. For example, every company in Germany is composed in a very orderly way. Faced with unresolved problems, employees know who to talk to and who is responsible to make the final decision in order to avoid problematic situations. Regarding the French, they tend to identify the key points of a project and define the outlines. At school, students are taught to convince though a brillant presentation while Germans learn to convince by a precise, detailed and factual argument.
French students, who are known to work under pressure, learn how to analyze problems, and find solutions or alternatives. Finally, linguists differences can impact relations between Germans and French in the workplace and can raise tensions. In German, the verb is placed at the end of a sentence which constrain the interlocutor to wait until the other has finished talking. There is a specific word in German “ ausreden” which mean “ let someone finish”. Thus, interrupting someone, a phenomena well accepted in France, remains a sign of rudeness in Germany. Further, in France, the compromise carries a negative value and is only accepted when the people in question disagree. Yet, in Germany, it is perceived as a solution that does not disadvantage any of the parties; indeed, it is beneficial and natural. One concept, “ Konzept”, is in Germany an elaborate project that requires some preparation before presenting it at a meeting. While, in France, it is rather an intellectual representation of an abstract idea. There are also many French expressions implying . In fact, it will be more accurate to say “ I come to see you later”. The French language abounds with fuzzy ornamental formulas, which cannot be taken literally by a foreign interlocutor. It doesn’t intend to mislead the interlocutor, but rather to get the person’s attention and stimulate the conversation. Through that explanation, words and similar expression have a different interpretation in both countries, including in the workplace. It is therefore important to know.
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