Many Germans share some distinct characteristics that shine through in the way they do business. For those of you planning to begin or continue business relationships with German counterparts, there are many things you should know about German business culture and customs. Let’s take a look at four common traits you will inevitably come across when doing business in Germany.
Perhaps the first thing you’ll notice when working with Germans is their bluntness and straight-forward approach to speaking. A German businessman does not mince words or make his speech flowery for effect. Although some cultures, such as Korean or Japanese, view this directness as intimidating or even rude, it’s worth mentioning that this direct way of speaking is considered by Germans to be a sign of respect. The general philosophy of straight-forwardness is deeply embraced by the typical German businessman, and its effect manifest in many different ways. It could be argued that other German business culture and customs are byproducts, at least in part, of this overlying reverence of bluntness and truth.
Respect of Knowledge
A deep reverence of wisdom fundamentally shapes German business culture and customs, as well. Most Germans would prefer you say nothing at all in the stead of commenting on topics of which you aren’t properly versed. Education is highly respected in German culture. In business, the most respect goes to the person with the most technical skill applicable to solving the problem at hand. The straight-forward, technical mindset seen in many Germans comes from their respect of engineering and science. This can be witnessed in their previously mentioned style of direct speech, and is also a main reason for the prevalence of the next trait.
Desire for Detail
A German businessman typically dislikes ambiguity. Hunches and hopes are never as convincing as thorough detail and in-depth analysis. Germans will almost always arrive to the meeting very well-prepared, and they expect you to do the same. This trait is also noticeable inside the German business structure. Many German businesses are geared towards specialization, so this means information needs to be distributed in an effective manner. Management is expected to give employees direct, detailed and unambiguous instructions for every task that needs to be done. German companies are also known to apply many strict rules and regulations. The strong enforcement of these rules contrasts greatly with other, more lenient cultures. This desire for specific detail seemingly goes hand in hand with the final trait on the list.
Structure and Formality
German companies tend to be departmentalized and somewhat hierarchical. Employees rarely contradict their superiors, and this occurs even more rarely when in public. This doesn’t mean that subordinates are simpletons, they just tend to respect the expertise of their superiors, which makes them willing to implement their instructions. Cultures like the U.S. can view the typical German relationship between manager and subordinate as cold or distant, since people from those cultures are more used to a personal, intimate approach to management. Germans simply have other ways of paying reverence. It is not uncommon for employees within the same German company to act just as formally with one another as they would with a potential client. This high level of formality, much like their direct way of speaking, is known by Germans as a way of showing respect. The typical German businessman is very punctual, and he will expect you not to waste his time. Germans often prefer to keep their business and pleasure separate. When meeting for business, most Germans would prefer a modest lunch meeting over a dinner meeting or a night on the town.