By Dirk Hinze, the Director of Universal Consensus’ Germany Practice

Meeting with a German? Just set foot into Germany? While visually different, you could feel when in Berlin or Munich just like in New York City, Paris or in London. The people are friendly, especially once a contact has been established. A friendly “Entschuldigung” (excuse me) along with a little small talk where you are from and why you are here usually is all you need to get the foot into the door. If you want to open the door wide – be prepared for some important cultural differences.

Here are a few insights on how to get onto the fast track to reach your goals while dealing with Germans:

  1. Be formal: Germans address each other – even after many years of acquaintance or working with 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.
  2. Listen till the end of the sentence: Germans are used to listen to efficient exchange 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 as much information into a long winding sentence there as well.
  3. 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 or to speak with self-perceived objectivity. Your counterpart might just respond to your “How are you?” salutation, with a sincere and detailed answer to how his day has been so far.
  4. Start a meeting with the agenda in mind: If you don’t start with the agenda in mind your German counterpart will be more than irritated. Most likely you have established an agenda beforehand and your German partner has thoroughly prepared for this meeting and brought his best specialists to answer to detailed questions related to the points on the agenda. You better prepare too and 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 may be swift and efficient.
  5. Formal dress still dominates: Although in some tech and creative sectors more casual dress is now becoming acceptable, formal dress is often expressed differently in Germany than in other countries, as it 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, it would be best to ask your German counterpart, about the particular culture in his company. Your questions will be welcome and it shows that you are trying to adapt to your business partners’ culture.

What is your experience in dealing with Germans? Discuss in our LinkedIn group.

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