By Dirk Hinze, Universal Consensus
Just set foot in Germany? While the differences from your home country may be visually apparent, it is the cultural differences when working with Germans that are subtler. A friendly “entschuldigung” (excuse me) along with a little small talk may get the conversation started, but there are some additional insights that are essential to your success while working in country:
- Be formal. Even after many years of acquaintance or working together, Germans address each other as Mister X and Miss Y, Herr Kaiser and Frau Mayer. Moving to a more casual, first-name basis will most likely not happen with older Germans.
- Listen till the end of the sentence. Germans are used to efficient exchanges of information and every word counts. They often place important information just at the end of a long phrase. And don’t be surprised if your German counterpart, while speaking English, puts lots of information into a long, winding sentence.
- Be prepared for frankness. Sometimes, Germans come across as arrogant, when in fact they are just particularly pragmatic and direct in order to avoid ambiguity. Your counterpart might respond to a “how are you?” salutation with a sincere, detailed answer to how his or her day has been so far.
- Keep to meeting agendas. If you don’t start a meeting with the agenda in mind, your German counterpart will be more than irritated. Your German partner will likely have thoroughly prepared for a meeting and brought the right specialists to answer to detailed questions related to the points on the agenda. Prepare to focus on the issues at hand while avoiding small talk in meetings. Once a decision has been reached – and that might take some time as you go methodically through all the eventualities and implications – execution of that decision can be swift and efficient.
- Err on the side of formal dress. While casual dress is becoming acceptable in some tech and creative sectors, formal dress is still the norm. However, it is often expressed differently in Germany than in other countries, and does not necessarily translate to a blue or gray business suit and tie. In Germany, it could just be a suit jacket or a blazer, shirt, tie and pants.
If you have questions or are unsure, ask your German counterpart about the particular culture in his or her company. Your questions will be welcome and show that you are trying to adapt to culture of your partner’s business.
What experiences have you had with German culture?
Dirk Hinze is an international PR and cross-cultural consultant enabling companies to maximize the power of communications to meet their business goals. Dirk Hinze is the Director of Universal Consensus’ Germany Practice.
Follow him on Twitter @dirkhinze.