Last week I talked about typical behaviour in different regions of Germany. Today it’s about the common business etiquette.
A short and firm handshake with direct eye contact shows the respect for the business partner. In a meeting with more people you should give everyone a handshake and tell them your last name during this. If everyone is sitting already you can also knock on the table and say Hello during this gesture.
Communication Style and Personal Space:
Germans tend to be direct and try to get directly to the point. A little bit of small talk is common so grab a local newspaper or read at Google News current reports about the region. Good personal topics are sports (especially soccer), travels and hobbies. Try to avoid politics and history in the first meeting. All conversations are held in at least one arm lengths distance. Direct eye contact will be a sign of interest and respect. But do not stare at your business partner. Always use Mr./Mrs. And the last name of your business partner at initial meetings.
Punctuality is very important especially for meetings, appointments and services. However, if you are invited to informal events it would be fine to be 5 to 10 minutes late. Women and men have the same status in business meetings but the hierarchy is important. If there is a presentation it is common to knock on the table or applaud afterwards to signal your satisfaction. Germans adhere very strictly to the structure and the agenda of a meeting. However, there is usually an open point at the end of the meeting for topics which have not been talked about so far. But keep the time in mind since for higher positions there are often meetings after meetings.
Be aware that Germans are very detail oriented and such details always have to be in a written form in a contract or a similar document. Often times there will be a legal advisor in the room for the decision maker. Decisions are typically made Top-Down and people often have strict limits what they can negotiate with. If there is an unforseen exceeding of this, expect delays caused by the need of getting approval by a higher rank for a higher budget. Most of the times you can be sure that once arrangements are made it is unlikely that they are changed. Gifts are fine as long as they are not exceeding a certain amount of value since people do not want to get difficulties with the law by a gift which could possibly be seen as bribery.
It depends on the corporate setting and the industry. So talk to your business partner about these facts before. If you get the answer that you can show up in business casual you should wear long trousers and a shirt. Just business dress means a suit, shirt and tie for the men and business dress or suit for women. Try to avoid very demonstrative and expensive accesoires.
Most people will speak English. Especially the younger generations are learning this already from at least first grade on. Moreover some people will speak Spanish, French or Russian since those are the languages which are also often offered to learn in school. Nevertheless you can learn some German words to impress your business partner.