Cultural tips: Germany

Characteristics of Germans in Business situations

  • Germans are generally well-dressed, punctual, organised and efficient. You must match these qualities. It is advisable to adopt a rather more formal approach with Germans at meetings. During greetings and good-byes use surnames, shake hands and respect their titles.
  • Whatever you promise a German, you must deliver. If you fail in some respect, apologize immediately. Then you must compensate.
  • Germans dislike misunderstandings; therefore you should strive to avoid them. Be willing to go over details time and time again. You must be patient. They don’t like being rushed.
  • When Germans criticize your actions, it is to help you avoid making mistakes. Accept their criticism as being constructive. You may also point out their errors frankly, but make sure you are right. They will look earnestly for deficiencies in your products or services and will criticise you openly (even energetically).
  • Put as much in writing as you can. You can be very wordy, they will read it.
  • Germans like people to conform, therefore do not display too much eccentricity.
  • Germans are uneasy when confronted with flippancy, sarcasm or inappropriate humour. Business is a serious business. Tell them funny stories afterwards over a beer. They do have a sense of humour, but they do not use it at work. What amuses a German will not get all other cultures laughing too.
  • They are generally convinced that they are the most honest, reliable and sincere people in the world, also in their business negotiations. Be frank, truthful and as honest as possible, but do not meet them head on if you see their position is highly opposed to yours. Seek common ground - they like sharing.
  • Always make sure you are talking to the right person in the right department and at the right level. Germans are hierarchical and do not like to be bypassed.
  • Display trust and expect it from them. German friendships are worthwhile. If you impress them with your early actions, they will want to develop a solid partnership with you.
  • They like consensus. Consult all people concerned before embarking on a course of action. They do not concede their case or arguments easily, but tend to look for common ground. This is often your best approach to make progress. Head-on collision with a sizeable German company seldom leads to results.
  • German companies are often successful because they have established reliable processes and procedures during their history. Respect these. They like to finish action chains. Do not interrupt unfinished tasks or give too many simultaneously.
  • In general it is a good policy to obey rules and laws without questioning them very much. Bureaucracy is inevitable and likely to be complex. Trying to find shortcuts is more likely to make the process longer than shorter.
  • Subordinates should be helped, advised and monitored, but once a German has had a task fully explained, then he/she should be left to get on with it.
  • Respect privacy at all times, both with regard to the person and the company’s activities. Information does not flow freely in Germany.
  • Germans do not believe that life is simple. When they may appear to over-complicate things, do not fall into the trap of over-simplifying. 
  • Do not overdo small talk with Germans. They like facts, figures, reliable information.
  • During a meeting protocol is important and agendas are followed faithfully. They are willing to discuss details at an early stage. They will arrive well-informed as to the business and expect you to be also. They will present logical arguments to support their case and often have thought over your possible counter-arguments to have their second line of attack ready.
  • They believe they are more efficient than others and do not change position easily.
  • They are willing to make decisions within meetings, but they are always cautious. They generally stick to what they have agreed orally.
  • If you are selling to them they will question you on what are German strong points, e.g. quality of goods, delivery dates, and competitive price. Be ready.
  • They expect, in the end, to get the very best (lowest) price.
  • They will write up their notes carefully and come back well-prepared the next day. It is advisable for you to do the same.
  • Germans generally have good language abilities but often suffer from lack of knowledge of foreign cultures. They like to use German whenever they can.
  • When Germans make a contract, they make sure that their obligations are deliverable. In German eyes, sticking to a contract means reliability. Changes are not expected or welcomed. Fulfilling contracts faithfully is the way to build trusting relationships in Germany.
  • Remember the importance of local identity. Being a Bavarian may be more important to your host than being a German, for example.

Source: CultureActive by Richard D. Lewis

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