In a society that values structure and organisation across all aspects of life, it’s no surprise that business culture in Germany is often dictated by strict rules of conduct. With the world’s fourth-largest economy in terms of nominal GDP, they are a European power with serious business clout.
When doing business in Germany, it’s important to understand that forward thinking and careful planning are the key foundations of business culture here. Prescribed business rules of behaviour can mean there’s less flexibility and spontaneity than you may find elsewhere in Europe.
With an emphasis on careful planning, consideration, consultation and consensus, Germans will expect your preparation to be thorough, with a focus on detail, facts and statistics.
This high level of organisation is seen as a way of limiting any uncertainty or risk, something Germans can be uneasy with and look to negate through risk analysis. Business decisions are usually made based on factual evidence rather than intuition.
Work and personal lives are rigidly divided and privacy is highly valued. As business is viewed as serious, humour can feel out of context in a work environment, as can over-familiarity. While more intimate relationships may begin to develop over time, in general communication styles in Germany are direct and to the point.
Good appearance and presentation are paramount with regard to business here and clothing should be formal, neat and conservative.
It’s customary to shake hands when doing business in Germany, with firm, brief handshakes being the norm. Avoid shaking hands with one hand while the other is in your pocket and if you are greeting several people at once, make sure you don’t lean over people to shake the hands of others, instead waiting to take turns.
In Germany, first names are usually reserved for friends and family, instead you should address people using their professional titles, Herr (Mr.) or Frau (Mrs./Ms.) followed by their surname.
How to close a deal
As Germans like to plan ahead, it’s best to book meetings at least two to three weeks in advance. Punctuality is very important, with even a delay of a few minutes potentially causing offence, as lateness is perceived as a lack of respect for other people’s time. If you feel you may be running even slightly late, it’s best to call ahead and explain the situation.
On entering a room, you should greet the most senior business associate first, then others present, before waiting to be told where to sit. Expect meetings to stick to a set agenda and to be formal and functional with little or no time for small talk.
As decisions will be made based on facts, rather than personality, presentations should be detailed and scientific, with information also provided in writing. Proposals will usually be analysed thoroughly and decisions are usually made slowly and methodically.
Sudden changes in business proposals or transactions are to be avoided, even if they might improve the outcome, as surprises can lead to unwelcome uncertainty.
In order to close a deal in Germany, it’s important not to attempt to rush proceedings by applying pressure. Patience is key and once decisions are made they are rarely overturned.