Business Etiquette In Germany
Germany shares many of its business customs and patterns of etiquette with the rest of the Western world. However, there are some differences that are helpful to know when doing business in Deutschland.
What To Wear
Being well groomed and dressed are important traits in German business, and German culture in general. Many Germans take pride in dressing well and keeping up with contemporary fashions.
Like the US over the past 20 years, accepted business dress in Germany has changed based on industry. Some, like tech, have a more relaxed dress code. Others, like finance, retain a more conservative, dressy expectation. As in most business situations, erring on the side of overly conservative is always preferable to showing up under-dressed.
For men, you can never go wrong with a dark suit in black or navy with a light-blue or white shirt. Choose an understated, solid color tie that works well with your ensemble. Women can opt for a pantsuit or blazer and skirt combination in similarly understated colors.
Woman or man, always choose well-tailored clothing that fits and is in good condition. Polish shoes and make sure you’re well groomed.
Greet your German business partners with a nod, smile and firm handshake. Keep some distance to demonstrate your respect for their personal space.
Do not be put off if they come off as somewhat cold, uninviting and blunt when first meeting. The separation of business and one’s personal life is an essential value in German business culture. Thus, this approach is not a reflection on you or your German business partners’ willingness to engage in discussions with you.
Traditionally, business is organized and carried out in a very hierarchical manner in Germany. Showing respect for your German business partners and their position within the company is important. Address each using Herr (Mr) or Frau (Ms), their title within the company and then their surname.
Rigid structure and discipline is an old German stereotype, but some of it rings true when it comes to the German approach to business. Punctuality is key. While in other parts of the world a meeting time may be a loose guideline, in Germany it is definitive. Arrive on time and respect others' commitments, appointments and schedules. It is best to be 5 to 10 minutes early to appointments, as even slight lateness can offend.
Reverence for structure doesn’t merely apply to punctuality either. Keeping your meeting well-organized is also immensely important. Set an agenda for your meeting and stick to it. Surprise proposals not outlined in previous meeting plans are typically unwelcome, or at the very least, may make your potential business partners uncomfortable.
Most German businesses are very thorough when planning and executing business initiatives. They won’t rush, which means the initial phases of a project or deal may proceed more slowly. However, the emphasis put on punctuality usually means projects will and should be completed in the allotted time frame.
Communicate With Directness
When it comes to business, Germans typically appreciate honest, straightforward communication. To those not familiar with German culture, this can sometimes come across as especially blunt. In reality, this communication is just a reflection of the way Germans communicate with one another.
Germans place much more importance on substance than style when it comes to business communications. A slick and flashy presentation or PowerPoint is a lot less effective than a well-constructed and communicated proposal. That’s not to say don’t put time and thought into the delivery of your message. Simply, make sure the content of your message takes the spotlight.
Finally, don’t be surprised if your German business partners offer up frank criticism or openly question your proposal. They do not mean to offend but simply address possible issues as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Entertaining And Gifts
Unlike other countries, gift giving among business partners is not commonplace in Germany. Generally, German firms tend to put more emphasis on the business at hand than formalities or symbolic gestures. However, outside the office or meeting, if a German business contact invites you on a social outing it may be appropriate to get a gift.
If you are going to get a gift for your business associate, choose something small. Wine, flowers, chocolate or a small gift from your region of the world are all appropriate when visiting a German business partner's home. Avoid red roses because, as is the case in most of the Western world, they communicate romantic interest.
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