Germany is one of the largest economies in Europe and the fifth-largest economy in the world; some of its largest cities (e.g., Berlin, Hamburg, Frankfurt-am-Main) are significant business hubs that rely on the operations and activities conducted by thousands of large and small organizations (Nedelko 5). To ensure that business practices are ethical and all cultural norms are taken into consideration, employees need to remember the following:
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- Dress-code is important but varies depending on the industry. For example, dark/medium colored suits/dresses and blouses are suitable for banking, finance, law, etc. More casual clothing is common among IT employees and firms involved in the art industry (e.g., multiplication, film industry, game design, etc.).
- Titles are essential. One should use Herr (Mr.) or Frau (Ms., Mrs.), then the person’s title (e.g., doctor, professor), then their name (Culture Crossing Guide). An example: Frau Professorin Stein. Notice that titles often have a suffix “–in” when addressing a woman.
- Being punctual is crucial. It is considered appropriate to come for a meeting 5-10 minutes earlier, but 15 would be perceived as too much. Being late is rude, especially for business meetings (Nedelko et al. 127).
- Germans have a specific word for appointed meetings, “terminal”. If you have scheduled a “terminal” with somebody, you can postpone it, although it might be perceived as disrespectful in some business environments. It is better to adhere to all scheduled meetings tightly without proposing any changes later.
- Conflicts and confrontations are not encouraged as Germans prefer to conduct business with high attention to detail and lengthy negotiations; any disruptions in the business process or discussions can adversely influence both parties. The respectful approach toward individuals in higher and lower positions is expected.
- Gender equality is important. Germany places a high emphasis on gender equality and any policies or suggestions that might undermine it (e.g., a dress code that allows women to wear only dresses/skirts in offices, etc.) will result in a scandal and severe backlash (Selladurai 49).
- Refrain from having a small talk before the business meeting. It is not discouraged, but Germans prefer to maintain professional relationships and avoid informal communication in the business environment.
- Gifts are a controversial topic and might be perceived differently. Some state that small gifts in the form of souvenirs are acceptable during a business meeting (Culture Crossing Guide). Others, however, point out that giving gifts is only appropriate when your negotiations were successful, and you and the other person became friends/good business partners (InterNations).
- Subtleness is uncommon. Germans rarely tend to be subtle during business meetings; if your business partner tells you they will think about accepting your offer, it does not mean they are not ready to do it. Instead, it indicates that your business partner needs some time to evaluate it.
- The critique might be direct but fair. If a German business partner criticizes the project or your work, it should not be perceived as rudeness. German directness is a tool to get to a point in a short amount of time (InterNations).
- Some of the gestures used in Germany are uncommon in the USA. For example, at the end of the presentation Germans might indicate their approval by lightly rapping their knuckles on the tabletop; applauding is less common, although it can be seen in international organizations.
The main points are these: being polite, punctual, professional, and attentive is highly valued. Small talk and other informal communication is not directly discouraged but should be avoided anyway. At last, it is better, to be honest and direct rather than subtle, as subtleness might be misunderstood.
Culture Crossing Guide. “Germany.” Culture Crossing Guide, n.d., Web.
InterNations. “Business Etiquette and Values in Germany.” InterNations, n.d., Web.
Nedelko, Zlatko, et al. Exploring the Influence of Personal Values and Cultures in the Workplace. IGI Global, 2017.
Selladurai, Raj. Servant Leadership: Research and Practice. IGI Global, 2014.