The German economy is the fifth largest in the world. Germany also is a founding member of the European Union (EU); it exerts a great influence over its fellow EU nations. Therefore, it is essential to understand German culture when doing business in Europe.
When trying to learn German business etiquette, remember that most German interactions in business are formal and conservative.
The German culture respects privacy and decorum. When visiting offices, always knock and wait for acknowledgment prior to entering, even when the door is open. It is good German business etiquette to maintain a level of formality in any business relationship, even outside the office. Displays of emotion or breaks in protocol often result in creating an environment of distrust.
Hierarchical standing in Germany is important, so expect some interest in your personal status, corporate status and company title. Proper German etiquette for women is the formal use of Mrs. if they are married or Miss if they are not. Some may even ask questions about your education and family background. Do not take any of these questions personally, nor get upset if the conversations seem blunt. They are simply trying to understand your personal and business status.
Communication in Germany is formal. Never use a person’s first name without being asked to do so. It is considered rude and overly familiar, which is something most German’s distrust. Written communication is highly valued in Germany. Germans provide, and expect, documentation on presentations, discussions and when making decisions. Everything is documented. When writing correspondence to groups of people, address the correspondence to the most senior person in the group. Always use the last name with Mr., Mrs. or Ms. in all written correspondence, even when you are writing an e-mail. In addition, it is good German business etiquette to send all correspondence in German as well as English.
Business Meeting Etiquette
German business dress is conservative and formal. Avoid bold patterns and colors, and leave ostentatious accessories at home. Germans judge a person’s professionalism on how they dress. Men and women should wear conservative suits.
German business meetings are formal. Appointments are mandatory. In Germany, do not expect to meet with anyone without an appointment. Last minute appointments are considered extremely rude and poor business etiquette. Always be on time for meetings. Canceling a meeting without notice is considered rude and it will affect the business relationship.
German business etiquette requires adherence to an agenda. Even if the meeting will be in English, bring along an interpreter to avoid misunderstandings. The English language spoken in Europe is that spoken in England, so avoid using American slang terms. When meeting with a group of German business people, consider it an interview. Germans often use trusted colleagues to determine if new business relationships can be trusted. A habit that often surprises people new to doing business in Germany is the rapping of knuckles on the table to show approval. If, at the end of the meeting, the Germans in the room rap their knuckles on the table, it means that they approve of the meeting’s outcome.