So as to avoid business misunderstandings, the cultural differences gap between Eastern and Western Europeans must be taken into consideration and eventually bridged. What is there to be aware of when it comes to collaborations between France and Eastern Europe?
Communication is vital when it comes to doing any kind of business. France tends to be placed towards the high-context end of the communication scale, which means they have an inclination towards subtlety and sometimes even metaphorization, as opposed to, let’s say, the US, which is known to favor rather low-context, more direct means of expression. The common assumption is that the French are masters of implicit and indirect communication, speaking and listening with subtlety and sensitivity.
There are 7 times more words in English than in French (500.000, as opposed to 70.000) which suggests that French rely on contextual clues to resolve contextual ambiguities to a greater extent. The French language relies on a number of idioms that specifically refer to high-context communication, such as sous-entendu, literally meaning “under the heard”. To use a sous-entendu ultimately means to say something… without saying it.
Closing the gap:
If you’re coming from a low-context culture such as Eastern European cultures (Bulgary being an exception this time around), you may perceive a high-context communicator as lacking the required transparency. If you’re coming from a higher context culture, you may perceive a low-context coworker as shallow, trivializing business matters. As stated before, French people are on the high-context side of communication; luckily, they are not placed all the way down the scale, as Japan is, for example, so both sides of a multicultural project can feel free to speak their minds; understanding won’t be a problem at first glance.
However, take note: Eastern Europeans usually begin meetings with small talk and leave the serious issues for later, which may appear like unwanted delays for the French at times. Patience is required on both sides. Eastern Europeans should also take some time to read between the lines, because not everything will always be held at face value when it comes to communication.
What is viewed in one culture as constructive criticism can be seen as destructive in another. This is what we call feedback and is usually expressed either as direct negative feedback or as indirect negative feedback. Direct cultures tend to favor upgraders – totally, absolutely, strongly – right before the negative feedback. Indirect cultures tend to soften the intro, using downgraders – kind of, sort of, a little. When dealing with higher-context cultures, extra attention must be paid to these type of linguistic categories which makes the act of listening, as suggested in the section before, even more useful.
In a French setting, positive feedback is often given implicitly, while negative feedback is given more directly. This may seem abnormal, as their way of communication is of a high-context nature, and usually, indirect feedback patterns tend to follow the expression styles closely; this is called swapping places on the cultural scale, between Communication and Evaluation.
When it comes to Eastern Europeans, as with France, non-verbal elements are important in evaluating feedback. They also take conflicts more personally. It’s important to build a good personal relationship in order to have a successful business partnership. Ukrainians and Bulgarians are treating feedback in a more direct manner, they are more comfortable with more direct communication styles. However, Romanians tend to be more subtle when giving feedback and will expect the same, which makes them excellent business partners for French people.
Closing the gap:
The “sandwich method” method is very useful when working with Eastern Europeans overall, especially Bulgarians, Ukrainians and Romanians; when giving feedback, emphasize the positive aspects and express the negative ones as challenges that both parties can overcome. This will automatically create a positive environment that will motivate everyone to give their best.
There is an egalitarian management approach when it comes to leadership and a hierarchical one, both of them being proven successful across various cultures. In an egalitarian culture, the aura of authority comes from acting like one of the team. In a hierarchical culture, the aura of authority comes from setting yourself apart.
France falls towards the right of the scale, them being closer to a hierarchical approach rather than an egalitarian one. There’s even a myth about their authority which speaks volumes: there exists an aura of authority that surrounds even the material possessions of a French boss! This suggests the importance role symbols play in defining power distance in the French culture.
Eastern Europeans are also hierarchical. The general manager not only has a strategic role but also has the highest authority to decide about how the tasks are being executed. This has a direct impact: Eastern Europeans expect the general manager (or the hierarchical superior) to know their assignments and instruct them on how to improve their work or even to be involved in other operational areas, such as account management or project management.
Closing the gap:
Eastern Europeans always tend to seek the general manager’s approval, which really isn’t a problem for a French boss; this comes naturally for them and will make business collaborations very efficient. Remember to maintain direct communication with the Eastern European business leaders, not only with the project manager. It is best to confirm any important decision with the highest hierarchical leader involved in the process and update him on the project’s progress.
As previously observed, the decision-making process is almost always tied to the type of leadership a business enforces. As such, the French fall towards the top-down decision-making style (the boss has the final word), as opposed to the consensual style (almost every worker is implied in the making of a decision).
Eastern Europeans are, as in leadership, also clearly hierarchical; another mutual point when conducting business with France. They also respect the top-down approach, but on the other hand, they also tend to be more risk-averse, so they will usually need to have any important decision reconfirmed. This may lead to undesired delays when it comes to conducting business. The compensation? Eastern Europeans are also more flexible when dealing with problems and they tend to be more open to applying innovative solutions.
Closing the gap:
Both consensual and top-down approaches will prove effective in the end, but when working in a multicultural team, a balance must be found. As a French outsourcer, try to take into consideration the opinions of your Eastern European peers, even if they are not always openly expressing themselves. Don’t interpret delays as indirect refusal to com. A delay just means that more time is required from your Eastern European coworkers in order to eliminate any risks or to build the much-needed trust.
Next time we will be approaching the issues of Trusting, Disagreeing, Scheduling and Persuading in business conducted between France and Eastern Europe. Make sure to revisit our blog next week!