Are you headed to Germany soon for business? Lucky you! Germany is a beautiful country with great food and beer! That being said, it is a very different culture from the United States, and particularly when you are conducting business there, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the social norms of the country. That’s why we have compiled this list of tips for conducting business in Germany.
General Tips About German Business Culture
Here are some general tips on German business protocol. First, the highest ranking or eldest person always enters the room first. When you are greeting someone, a brief and firm handshake is most appropriate, and you should do the same when you depart. Germans do not believe in being too familiar with their business colleagues, so avoid smiling too much or being too affectionate. In the same vein, you don’t want to compliment them (this will embarrass them) or ask, “How are you?” because it comes off as fake. At the same time, you want to avoid being critical, even unintentionally. Eye contact is crucial; when someone is talking to you, meet their gaze as long as they are directly addressing you. Meetings are serious in Germany, so save the jokes and small talk for socializing at a different time.
As far as preparing your presentation, there are some things to keep in mind. Any proposal you bring to a business meeting in Germany should be very well thought-out and organized. In addition, German business people are usually resistant to change—you will need a well-researched and logical argument to get them on board with any new ideas. You want to avoid promoting risk taking or challenging authority, as German business culture is very heavily structured and does not allow for much flexibility. Order and routine are very important in the culture, and challenging this in any way may cause your business colleagues to become quite emotional. It’s best to keep all of your business material serious, detailed, and free of any statements you cannot backup with hard evidence. Avoid too much glitz in your presentation; advertisements that rely on catchy slogans or vivid illustrations are unlikely to impress them.
When you are making decisions with your German colleagues, prepare for it to be an extensive process. Every detail will be poured over. Though you may interact with many different people during negotiations, the final decision will be up to the highest level of management. Prepare for them to have very well-thought-out arguments and to not concede easily. That being said, they will want to find common ground, so look for that when you’re having trouble making progress with negotiations. Finally, any contracts you sign with your German colleagues will be taken extremely seriously, so if it is agreed to in writing, it will happen.
Here are some good conversation topics to keep in your back pocket, as well as some you should avoid with your German business colleagues.
- Sports—tennis, soccer, skiing, biking, and hiking are all popular
- Travel-related topics
- Beer—because Germany is so well-known for their top-quality beer, it’s a good idea to educate yourself on how different types compare, as this will likely come up
- German cuisine—this is a great opportunity to get restaurant recommendations from your colleagues
- German wine
- German architecture and nature
Topics to Avoid
Germans aren’t interested in “small talk.” Conversation should be focused on topics of substance. Avoid anything superficial.
In addition, don’t interrupt anyone. Respond after they have finished making their point.
Gestures to Avoid
There are also a couple of gestures you should avoid using with your German business colleagues. For one, the “okay” sign (bringing together the tips of the thumb and forefinger) is a rude gesture in Germany, so don’t use it. In addition, don’t put your hands in your pockets, and if you can avoid it, don’t chew gum in front of them.
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