Navigating Business Culture in Germany

German Business Culture

Among the biggest challenges for an expat are starting a new job overseas and navigating international business relationships. There are many negative stereotypes regarding German business culture, such as arrogance and humourlessness. The reality is that the business culture in Germany has many advantages.

Arranging Meetings in Germany

The first step is arranging an initial appointment. Proper planning is important here.

Begin making arrangements around two weeks ahead of the proposed date. Avoid dates during the Christmas holiday season, over the Easter break or during the month of August.

Dates are generally written in the European format (day, month, year). Business correspondence in Germany is typically quite formal in tone. Be sure to find out the right form of address and title for anyone you write to.

  • Start and end correspondence with the correct formal salutations.
  • Use proper titles and use the polite Sie to address the reader.
  • Subject lines must be clear and concise.
  • Sign off with your full name, current position, e-mail address and other contact information.
  • Do not include e-mail attachments unless requested.

When arranging an appointment by telephone, start by stating your name and then ask to speak to the appropriate person. State your reason for calling and mention any previous contact you or your company may have had with the company in Germany. The receptionist will be more inclined to redirect your call to management if you do this. While receptionists in major international companies are often multilingual and may have an excellent grasp of English, not all do. If you know at least a little basic German, it may be helpful.

The preferred language in a German office will typically be German. Younger Germans and those in the higher echelons of the company are likely to be fluent in English. That said, Germans from older generations may be less comfortable with English — especially if the meeting is taking place in Germany. Find out whether you may need translation or interpretation services.

Dressing for your appointment

Lean towards more conservative attire — especially if you’ll be doing business with insurance or finance firms.

Men:

  • Wear a suit in a dark colour over a white or pale-blue shirt.
  • Ties should be tasteful and not too bright or showy.
  • Shoes should be sensible and well-polished.

Women:

  • Choose a trouser-suit or twinset in beige, navy-blue or black. Blouses and shirts should be simple and elegant. Avoid clothing that’s tight or revealing.
  • Wear plain nylon tights in an understated colour.
  • Shoes should be sensible: low heels, closed toes and reserved colours such as black, brown, dark blue or beige.

Clothes should be neat, clean and carefully pressed. Both men and women should eschew flashy jewellery. If you have tattoos, ensure that they are covered. Piercings should be removed, although women may wear a pair of simple earrings.

Choose neat, clean clothing and well-polished, sturdy shoes. Women wear closed pumps with lower heels in black, dark blue, brown, or beige.

Note that the specific dress code of the organisation you’re doing business with may be different. For example, blue-collar interviewees may choose to wear a smart shirt and tie with casual trousers. At the lower tiers of a white-collar office, dress codes may be more relaxed. In some companies, particularly design or tech companies, informality is encouraged. When in doubt, take your cue from the other people at the firm and choose your outfit to fit the prevailing norms.

Meetings: the essentials

As well as dressing appropriately, you should also prepare ahead of your meeting. If you know that you’ll need specific equipment — for instance, if you plan to give a presentation — you should let them know as soon as you can.

For formal meetings, you will probably be convening in a conference room. Should you find yourself invited to meet in a private office in Germany, be aware that the regional culture prizes privacy very highly. Be sure to knock and wait outside the office instead of simply walking in. You may need to ask the office assistant to escort you to meet executive staff.

Meetings will normally take place during office hours. This is usually nine to five, but some offices may start or end the working day earlier or later. Germans generally avoid making business commitments in the evening. Allow plenty of time to get to your venue and don’t worry too much about arriving a little early. Punctuality is vital in German business culture.

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