We all enjoy receiving a compliment. They make us feel good about ourselves and about the person making the compliment.

  • Well done!
  • You did a good job here, it was complex!
  • Pretty dress!
  • Cool shirt!

By a compliment I don’t mean some kind words uttered just to make the recipient feel good, so often said with a hidden purpose, to put the recipient in a frame of mind to make him/her more receptive to a favour or other gain about to be requested.

I mean a compliment as an expression of esteem, respect, affection, or admiration truly felt and deserved for good reason.

Imagine you are a newly appointed manager of a team. At the end of your first week, having met all of the team members and gone through the department’s figures, you compliment your team for the work done so far.

So far so good, except if your team is made up of French people.

They will grow suspicious of your compliments and by extension of you. But why should they, I hear you say, if the praise is deserved, what is the problem?

The problem is the French education. All their lives, at school from nursery school, through primary and secondary education, university, at home, socially, they have always heard ‘Good or very good… but…’. The result is that if they are told the first half of the sentence, i.e. the compliment alone, as we would in the Anglo-Saxon world, but not the second half, i.e. the ‘but’, French people will start getting suspicious: what is this guy about? What does he want? Surely he has a hidden agenda.

So, be wise to this important cultural difference. Your action starts with all good intentions, establishing a positive working relationship with your team, but can back-fire with all the wrong consequences.

United Kingdom and France are separated only by the Channel, but by ignoring cultural differences it might as well be an ocean. To succeed across the Channel, you cannot just translate, you must localise.

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