The world’s third largest economy has long relationships with many other countries, and yet there are aspects of German business etiquette that are often overlooked. Germans’ heightened attention to detail, for instance, must be always kept in mind or you may weaken your chances in Germany’s highly competitive market.
From expectations of professional behavior to product quality, Germans are very demanding. In addition to adhering to universally acknowledged standards, it is also beneficial to offer innovation, exceptional design and other features that add value. Germans pay attention to the smallest details, and they always have everything carefully planned, which is immediately apparent when contracts are signed.
Complex legislation and internal company rules also play roles in negotiations, so research into these areas will pay off. Germans are business-savvy and expect thorough information; if anything is unclear to them, then they will insist on an explanation and additional details. Quality websites and promotional materials are necessities that affect the perception of your market position – you can be sure that these will be reviewed by your German partners.
That indelible first impression
You will not get a chance to erase the first impression you make, especially with cautious Germans. Arrive at meetings on time, since Germans are very punctual and dislike changes made at the last minute. It is better to arrive at a meeting 5-10 minutes ahead of time to exhibit your respect for your potential business partners’ time, as well as your own ability to keep a strict schedule.
Introductions and parting should always be preceded by a firm handshake. Germans do not use many gestures or express emotions outwardly, and they are reserved with regard to humor – unlike outgoing Americans, for instance – so expect that business negotiations will be conducted in a rather serious manner.
The country’s business attire culture dictates formal and conservative clothing, and it is considered rude to set your suit or tie aside before your German colleague does so. The “Casual Friday” tradition is not regularly practiced in Germany, and even when situations arise that call for informal dress, German businesspeople most often continue to conduct themselves conservatively and with restraint.
Professionalism and discipline
Business is taken seriously, and during negotiations you will sense a highly professional and disciplined attitude among your German counterparts. To begin with, expect to set meeting times far in advance, and in that time be sure to prepare. Germans are pragmatic, especially when making decisions, so it is important to focus discussions on hard data and numbers. Negotiation topics are often discussed and resolved away from the “negotiation table” during less formal conversations, with official meetings serving the purpose of confirming what has already been agreed upon. That said, Germans strictly separate their professional and personal lives, and so it will usually take a long time before you are allowed to use informal forms of address.
A major emphasis is placed on education, but this is not restricted to university titles — Germans also regard internal training sessions and various certificates as important. During business negotiations, it is often customary to address others using their titles, but in regular conversations this is only done with doctors, lawyers, and others with roles indicated by their title. The presence of women in management positions is common in Germany, where gender equality is considered such a self-evident value that it is enshrined in the country’s constitution.
Despite their high levels of education, it is beneficial to communicate with German partners in their native language, especially in small companies and in situations where you need to deepen trust. Germans do not like uncertainty, and so important business decisions can take a relatively long time to be made under normal circumstances. For instance, more than other nationalities, Germans still rely on formal, written communication.
Some advice in conclusion
Germans appreciate luxury and brand-name products, but it is not normally customary to give gifts to business partners. By law, gifts with a value exceeding EUR 30 should not normally be accepted. A good idea instead is to give an invitation to an upscale restaurant. But in the looser atmosphere of socializing, be careful: any unethical behavior may have a highly negative effect on future negotiations. Under all circumstances, you should try to be concise, clear and always aware of the fact that Germans are proud of their culture.