Values, morals, customs and attitudes, at their very core reflect the foundation, perhaps the general tendencies of any particular culture and its people. Certain behaviors and customs are so rooted in some cultures, that being rigid or non-receptive towards them could give out an impression of being impolite or disrespectful.
While planning to visit a foreign country regardless of the purpose, it is advisable to gain prior knowledge about its culture, traditions, clothing styles, cuisine & dining etiquettes, basic greetings, meanings of gestures, religious preferences and other such aspects of distinguishable significance. When it specifically comes to building business relationships, it is important to get a good understanding about favorable time of the year to visit, the various business related mindsets, fundamental principles and guidelines, among other things.
Germans too have their own peculiar ethics, some of which may be common among the rest, while others remain distinctive. Below are some, for better clarity -
Always make an attempt to address your counterparts with their full title and their last name, regardless of how long they may seem. First names are usually reserved family members. People who have worked with each other for a relatively more period of time still address each other with their last name unless there’s some form of friendship established. This norm applies for email & telephonic correspondence as well.
Being even 5 minutes late for a meeting is a sure-shot recipe for business disaster, especially if it’s the first meeting with your German counterpart. Under unavoidable circumstances, one must try to call in advance to inform the concerned person and avoid misunderstandings. It is recommended to be at the meeting spot 5 to 10 minutes in advance.
Germans are known to be conservative & highly professional. Handshakes both at the beginning and at the end of a meeting is considered polite. It is more of a courtesy, as you’ll see colleagues working with each other for long giving a handshake every morning. It maybe accompanied with a slight bow. Anything beyond a handshake would be considered impolite. Nodding is quite common and being receptive to it will imply agreement of viewpoints or whatever it is being discussed. Germans more than often make eye-contact. For someone who isn’t used to such type of communication, it could seem intimidating. More than anything, it is an indicator of an attentive person.
Germans often tend to be direct, more blunt in their communication, leaving very less or no room for exaggeration or assumption. This should be kept in mind while making business proposals or any partnership plans. It doesn’t mean that they do not value creativity, however, things must be backed by logic.Expressive use of hand gestures are also minimally used at meetings.Humor isn’t quite welcomed during meetings or anywhere else, in the context of business.
German is the primary language spoken in the country, although there are many dialects of the same. It is also the preferred language for business, however, many senior level officials can communicate in English. In any case, it is good to elaborate your points, so each person has understood it, but without deviating much from what is important. German translation of your Company Profile, brochures or business cards will always create a good first impression.
It is not a common practice in the German business culture as the primary focus is on the tasks to be fulfilled, the basis of which is mutual advantage. Gift-giving is quite common during social situations. If you must give a present, the commonly accepted ones include office equipment, stationery with your company logo on it, books from your home country, etc.
Dressing well in general is something that is considered important for Germans. For business settings, their attire is usuallyformal and conservative. Men should wear dark coloured suits, white shirts, solid colour ties. Women too on the other hand wear conservative dresses and dark coloured suits, irrespective of how the weather may be. They refrain from putting on too much make-up or flashy outfits.
Life in Germany is quite structured and well – planned in all aspects and it is evident from their infrastructure, laws, institutions, etc. Germans believe highly in rank and hierarchy, implying that positions in companies are valued to a great extent. There is not much room for flexibility or spontaneity in such settings. During meetings, it is customary that the senior-most official enters the room first. It is also a taboo to discuss about personal income with your colleagues.
It could take some weeks to get an appointment, if the correspondence has been through telephone or fax. Alternatively, it may take upto 4 weeks to get a meeting scheduled, in case of email correspondence. Letters or emails should be addressed to heads of the department (full name and designation) and never to the subordinates or team members. To fix an appointment, the letter or email must be written in German. Cancellations are hugely frowned upon, even more than meetings scheduled at a short notice.
It would be wise to avoid scheduling business meetings in the month of July and August, also during Christmas and Easter.
Your efforts to get accustomed to, or respect the culture and customs of any foreign country, would help in demonstrating your global mindset, and prove to be fruitful while trying to build business relationships.
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