02 Oct An Introduction to Business Culture in Germany
Working abroad can pose unique challenges no matter what country an expat chooses to live in. You must carefully consider language barriers and differences in attitudes, behaviors, and cultures prior to beginning negotiations with local business professionals. This guide intends to serve as a brief introduction to Business Culture in Germany to help American professionals get a head-start on successful negotiations.
Particularities of the German Business Mentality
Most German businesses tend to be very risk-averse. As a result, the decision-making process can seem quite lengthy to their foreign colleagues. Any proposal is likely to be quite carefully and thoroughly examined, so plan for negotiations taking longer than they would in some other countries.
Business meetings should be considered a formal procedure. There is no room in German culture for uncertainty and ambiguity when it comes to negotiations. Expect to follow a detailed and carefully prepared agenda and to aim for decisive outcomes rather than general discussions.
Hierarchy and Business Negotiations
Keep in mind that those engaged in the German market follow a well-defined hierarchy. Each person engaged in negotiations is there to play a distinct role with clear responsibilities. Academic titles and professional background are two of the most important defining factors when it comes to determining an individual’s rank in the context of business dealings.
The Importance of Being Direct
When it comes to business communication skills, German professionals prefer a direct style. They will speak frankly about what their expectations are and will likely expect the same from foreign associates. Present facts thoroughly and try to avoid using hard-sell techniques, which appear disingenuous to many local businessmen.
When creating a presentation, be sure to do plenty of background research in advance. Presentations that include plenty of accurate and highly-researched facts and figures will be better received than those that are more open-ended. Try to prepare graphs, tables, and pie charts as needed well in advance.
When it comes to communication in business, first impressions are key. Shake hands with everyone in the room prior to beginning any meeting or conference. Try to begin with the most senior professional and work downwards.
In Germany, a handshake can speak a thousand words. Try to convey confidence and reliability through a firm, brief handshake. A weak handshake will often be interpreted as a sign of weakness or insecurity.
Keep in mind that in Germany, first names are only used between family members and close friends. Even colleagues who have been working together for many years typically follow this standard of formality. Use titles when appropriate as a sign of professional courtesy.
Finding points of common interest to establish a relationship between colleagues can be a challenge. Welcome topics include football, work, beer, and any recent holidays.
It’s a good idea to maintain eye contact when addressing business associates. There are also several gestures that should be avoided, including standing with one’s hands in one’s pockets. It’s also best not to point one’s index finger at one’s own head, as this is considered an insult.
German business dress is quite conservative for both men and women, particularly in the corporate world. Try to dress in dark colors and err on the side of too formal rather than too casual. Those in the IT sector may be interested to know that standards for business dress in that discipline are much more casual.
Timing and Scheduling
Avoid scheduling any appointments on Friday afternoons. Many offices close by 2:00 or 3:00 PM. It’s also important to arrive on time, or even early, as arriving late to a business meeting is considered quite offensive.
German business professionals typically include credentials such as university degrees and memberships in any professional organizations on their business cards. These are distributed liberally, so bring plenty of them to any meeting.
It’s also considered good form to bring a small gift at the time of the meeting. A more substantial gift may also be appropriate once a deal has successfully been reached. When returning home, do not forget to send handwritten thank-you cards to any hosts.
During business meals, the host is typically expected to initiate most activities, which include ordering food, drinking wine, and eating, in addition to the conversation. Also, bear in mind that it is polite to wish other colleagues or guests “Guten Appetit” prior to beginning the meal. The host is expected to pay the bill.
Engaging with the German market can be a fantastic opportunity, but only if it is approached with respect and a careful understanding of the Business Culture in Germany. It’s best to err on the side of extra formality both in dress and in conversation. This will convey that all parties involved in negotiations take their roles seriously and will have a positive lasting impact.