Top 12 tips on business culture in Germany

Published on February 15th, 2021

Germany business culture

As the largest economy in Europe, Germany offers a lot of opportunities to grow your business. Standing between you and success is the challenge of understanding the specific cultural influences, motivations and behaviors that influence business practices. The international and technological context of business has increased the complexity of working across borders.

Cultural awareness training will help us sort fact from fiction and challenge our subjective view of German culture; we will develop the skills we need to be more effective and navigate the business culture in Germany more effectively.

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Before you do any training, here are 12 tips to help you understand the business culture in Germany and give you a head start:

1. Preparation and organization

Germans tend to be well organized and prefer predictability over spontaneous decisions. Order is of uttermost importance to them, especially in business. According to the study Intercultural Competence and German Business Culture, Germans are slow-paced and detail-oriented in conducting business, so we suggest that you make sure you give them notice so they have plenty of time to consider your proposals.

2. Punctuality is essential

Sometimes there is truth in a cliché: being on time is extremely important for business etiquette in Germany. Coming 10-15 minutes before the meeting starts will be a good sign that you respect deadlines and that you show respect for your potential partners’ time.

3. Learn a little bit of German

Most Germans have excellent knowledge of English.  However, learning some basics of German can get you a long way. If you show at least an attempt to communicate in German, they will consider it a show of respect and initiative, and it will be appreciated.

4. Business structure

German business structure is hierarchical and most important decisions come from the top. Negotiating any deal with a company of German origin means communicating with its top management. 

5. Titles

When you communicate with German partners, the form of address has an important role, particularly in traditional companies. You should use proper forms, for example, Frau (Mrs) followed by the title of the person, i.e. Frau Doktor Schneider.

When speaking in English, Germans are more likely to follow an English/American style of addressing each other, unless there is a significant difference in hierarchical status.

6. Formal communication is highly valued

Germans like to talk straight to the point. They keep small talk to a minimum in a business setting because they keep professional and private lives separate. Words are important and they will consider word choice carefully. Improvising during meetings is usually considered unprofessional.

7. Focus on hard data and facts

Every decision follows strict procedures and looks into every small detail. For them to make those kinds of decisions they need, you should provide as much data about the topic. Preferably the research should be conducted by some renowned expert in the field because that way you gain more trust from your German counterpart.

8. Try not to over-promise

Stick to what you promise, and don’t try to show off by lavishly promising a lot more than you can do. Germans are precise and will expect everything that you say. Delivering different results than those mentioned in the first place will be a bad sign for them.

9. Risk aversion

Germans don’t take many risks in business. You should not be surprised that they will listen to offers with reservations. They need to be sure everything will be done in order and according to the law, so for you to completely understand their position, show how you have mitigated as much risk as possible.

10. Dress code

Even though many authors and guides state that it is best to stick to the business style, now it is a bit more different. Since we are all in the midst of a post-Covid business environment, dress codes, in general, tend to be much more casual and relaxed, and the same goes for the business culture in Germany.

Another thing that should be noted is that, while in other parts of the world showing off your status through expensive cars, phones, etc. is considered prestigious, in Germany it is understood as vulgar.

11. Don’t play games in negotiations

Most Germans separate their private and business lives. Until you have built up a personal relationship with your counterpart, small talk will be very general and is unlikely to touch personal topics.

12. Keep your distance

Once everything is settled, a firm handshake and a simple goodbye will seal the deal. Everything else, patting on the back or grabbing their arm is not advised, and won’t be properly understood. You risk leaving a bad impression and being perceived as someone rude without boundaries.

Interested in how introducing a cultural intelligence tool in your business could help to create a more borderless workforce? We’d love to show you our groundbreaking platform.