At VSNE, we have a broad network of experts based in Germany and many other European countries, who are well accustomed to the German business culture and open to advise on how to enter this potential market and leave a good impression on the first meeting.
German business mentality
The business culture in Germany is very well pronounced and follows a strict hierarchy. Within an organization, there are distinct responsibilities between roles and departments. Individual achievements are highly recognized; hence within the society, academic titles and professional status are important as they reflect expertise and knowledge.
German businesses tend to avoid uncertainty and ambiguity. Precision and details are highly expected in the work result. As a consequence, meetings always have clear objectives and seek decisive outcomes.
It is an unwritten rule that you should greet and address the other person formally. As mentioned above, academic and professional titles in Germany (such as doctor- Ph. D.) are highly appreciated and used very actively in the business context. When speaking to a German business partner, regardless of their superiority and ranking within the company, use a formal address such as “Mr. X” or “Ms. Y”.
A generally accepted greeting etiquette in Germany starts with a firm handshake and a friendly smile following. Try not to give a limp handshake as it is perceived as unenthusiasm or lack of confidence. Always keep eye contact during the greeting time as it shows respect to your business partner. A greeting kiss or hug is only accepted among close friends or acquaintances and not frequently seen among business partners.
It is often said that Germans do not really “do” the small talk, and they are not particularly famous for their art of small talk. On the one hand, it is considered a waste of time or an unnecessary ritual, especially in the business context. On the other hand, it is not common to get down to business as soon as you meet your business partner without having a “warm-up” talk.
The fine line between these two areas lies in the range of the following topics: the weather, weekend plans, holidays, cultural events that are happening around, a football match or general economic topics, etc. Topics that are considered off-limits, especially in the business context, are religious subjects, personal financial situations, or anything related to sexual or discriminating context. Subjects about World War II and Germany’s Nazi past are not taboo, but it is best to avoid opening a business meeting with such a topic.
How to dress
As a rule of thumb, follow the main rule while choosing your outfit for the meeting. It is highly recommended to conform to a business style, which represents professionalism and a feeling of confidence as well as responsibility.
In big German cities such as Munich or Frankfurt, it is common to see business partners dress up in a suit or neutral-colored shirts, pairing with a long dark-colored pair of trousers (for man) and knee-high skirt (for women). In the German capital city, the rules are a little more loosen. People are encouraged to dress according to their own taste and likings; however, they must still ensure the appropriation of the dressing for the business meeting.
To create the first great impression with your German business partner, make sure to educate yourself on the German business mentality and understand better their way of greetings, to do small talks, and to dress up.
The above-mentioned points are just a few among many other aspects like non-verbal communication etiquette or how speeches should be delivered within the meeting that one should consider when doing business with a German business partner. VSNE has invited Dr. Barbara Geldermann and Friederike von Denffer- lecturers at HTW, and an expert in intercultural communication to run an online workshop with us about the topic “Presenting Across Culture”. Join us in this workshop for more insights on how to communicate efficiently with German businesses.
Dr. Kavalchuk A., Cross-Cultural Management: How to Do Business with Germans- A Guide, Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH (2012)
Hofstede G., Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind, Intercultural Cooperation and its Importance for Survival, McGraw-Hill (1991)
Zoe Huong Tran – a VSNE Member. “Zoe is a people enthusiast and shares a great passion for understanding and fostering cultural diversity at the workplace.”