Good Manners International: Germany

Last time, we gave you some insight into the key business manners in Australia. Today, we show you how to best behave on your next business trip to Germany, home of the SELLBYTEL Group headquarters in Nuremberg, Bavaria.

Germany, which is officially known as the Federal Republic of Germany, constitutes Europe’s most industrialized and populous country, totaling roughly 81 million inhabitants. The country includes 16 constituent states, with the capital and largest city being Berlin. Famed for its technological achievements, the country has also produced some of Europe’s most famous composers, philosophers and poets.

Germany is one of the most highly developed industrial nations and, after the USA, Japan and China, has the world’s fourth largest national economy. Germany is further the biggest and most important market in the European Union (EU). Given its high focus on exports there is hardly any other country that intertwined with the world economy.

That’s why we would like to take the opportunity and make non-Germans familiar with the typical German business customs so that business encounters with clients and colleagues turn out even more successful. The following describes the most important business situations in which excellent behavior is key.

General Business Values

Formality: This includes arriving on time for a meeting, greeting everyone politely and sticking to a set agenda. Germans tend to be hierarchical in their decision-making so that contracts and joint projects are approved by management. That’s why it may take your contacts some time to get back to you.

Punctuality: Time is often managed carefully, so that calendars, schedules and agendas are respected. Thus, you better show up on time for a meeting – if possible even 5-10 minutes early. If you are going to be slightly late, always phone in advance.

Professionalism: Titles, references, diplomas and certificates are taken seriously. Academic credentials and higher qualifications expect a lot of respect. Besides, logical, convincing reasons for advancing business relationships are usually preferred to “putting on a big show”.

Work ethic: Projects may initially proceed at a slower pace, since many Germans tend to be thorough, detail-oriented and keen on producing great results.

Bluntness: This is not automatically rudeness. Germans simply want to get straight to the point. So don’t expect your business contacts to be particularly subtle or to refrain from honest criticism.

Fairness and loyalty: When a German business partner tells you they will think about an offer, they usually mean it. However, they don’t like to be pressured with making decisions, so a little patience will go a long way. Many times when business negotiations reach a deadlock, a lot of Germans desire a compromise in the interest of both parties.

Negotiation Process

In German business, a person’s word and handshake are considered his/her bond. If a verbal agreement is made in a business meeting, you can generally consider it binding.

Business negotiations tend to be analytical and factual. A well-researched speech with lots of graphs, empirical arguments and statistics is usually preferred. A direct, straightforward approach is also very much appreciated.

Decision-making is often a detailed process. Do not expect significant conclusions based on spontaneous or unstructured results.

If Germans feel rushed to complete a business deal, they may perceive this as a lack of commitment and professionalism.

Avoid confrontational behavior or high-pressure tactics. It can be counterproductive.

Business Dress Code 

Appearance and presentation is pretty important to Germans, particularly regarding business.

The traditional business dress code can be described as understated, formal and conservative. Businessmen are recommended to wear dark colored, conservative business suits, solid ties and white shirts. Depending on the industry and vibe of the company, a little color is totally fine too. Our tip: avoid taking off your jacket or tie before your German colleague does so.

Women are also used to dressing rather conservatively. This includes traditional business suits or dresses. They should further refrain from wearing heavy make-up and flashy jewellery or accessories.

Business Meals

When it comes to eating out, the key rule is to only begin when the host starts or someone else says “Guten Appetit” (have a nice meal). You should also avoid resting your elbows on the table. Once you finished eating, signalize it by laying your knife and fork parallel across the right side of your plate, with the fork over the knife. And very importantly, the most common toasts are “Zum Wohl!” or “Prost” (to your good health).

Hopefully you now have a good idea of how to best behave on your next business visit to Germany. Let us know how it went!

For further information on our business in Germany, please visit our SELLBYTEL Group website.

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