While doing business in Germany has many similarities to doing business in other European countries, there are some things unique to the country to be aware of to avoid committing a culture faux pas. To get started in the biggest economy in Europe and the fourth-largest in the world, follow these tips.
1. Plan ahead.
Germans generally want to know what they will be doing on a specific day at a specific time and feel that planning in great detail creates security. And stick to the plan. Most Germans do not appreciate surprises, and sudden changes are not appreciated.
2. Be serious and straightforward.
Get to the point and stick to the facts. Germans tend to skip over small talk, and counterparts don’t expect to be flattered. Business is serious, so avoid humor and hyperbole. Germans are direct in what they want, and they expect you to be the same.
3. Be on time.
Being even a few minutes late is considered an insult, so leave plenty of time to arrive at the appointed time and place, or better yet, arrive early. Germans tend to carefully manage their time, and sticking to timetables and agendas is critical. And if you can’t avoid being late, call and explain why.
4. Dress well.
Appearance and presentation are important. Business dress in Germany is conservative – dark suits, solid ties and white shirts for men, dark suits, white blouses or conservative dresses for women, even in warm weather. Women should not wear heavy makeup or loud jewelry, and both sexes should stick to understated, formal, conservative attire.
5. Follow meeting protocol.
Meetings are taken seriously, follow a formal procedure and may go into considerable detail. Following the rules is critical. When presenting, offer solid facts and examples, as Germans appreciate analytical thinking and rational explanations. The formality of meetings may make it difficult to assess how things are progressing, but if your counterparts are taking a lot of time to examine your proposal in depth, they are likely seriously considering it.
6. Observe the hierarchy.
German business culture has a well-defined and strictly observed hierarchy, with clear responsibilities and distinctions between roles and departments. In formal German business meetings, it is customary for the highest-ranking person to enter the room first, but if that is not the case, stand up when a higher-ranking or older person enters the room to greet that person. Germans are formal about hierarchy, so address counterparts with the honorifics Herr and Frau, with their last names.
7. Don’t expect a quick decision when negotiating business deals.
Decisions are made slowly and require analysis by a number of people. Trying to hurry the process for a quicker response risks alienating your counterparts.
8. Keep your distance.
Beyond the all-important initial handshake, avoid any physical contact, including a touch on an arm or shoulder. Keep at least an arm’s length between you and your counterpart when having a face-to-face conversation, but maintain eye contact to show interest and attention.
9. Respect privacy.
Do not ask personal questions, even if you have a previous relationship you’re your counterpart. Always knock on a closed door, and never call your counterpart at home. Never. Unless there is a catastrophe, and even then with caution.
10. Respect decisions.
Once a decision is made based on hard facts, it will not be changed, so don’t even try.