Cultural Differences – Germany

Ruffled Germany Flag

A paramount point in the German business culture is task-orientation. The business matter is central and even determines the style of communication. This is the main reason for the German communication style being so upfront and direct, some may even perceive it as blunt. While doing business in Germany, it’s crucial to be able to distinguish between personal critique and critique of the matter. If someone criticizes your work, it does not mean they have something against you, it just means that they are being honest and accurate. And honesty as well as accuracy is a trait that the Germans are proud of. However, personal relationships between colleagues are not as important, because teamwork is not based on mutual trust, but much rather on the business matter itself.

Organization and planning

In order to work in a precise, accurate manner, there is a need for some organization. A structure as well as a strict agenda for different cycles and processes are key. Therefore, many Germans are not big on taking risks when it comes to business. This results in them highly relying on numbers and facts. If the stats are correct, then everything is possible, because Germans are always about planning in detail for the future. In order to do this efficiently, every single factor that could play into a decision has to be taken up for consideration. This however, can take up quite a bit of time. But it’s worth it.

Discipline and conscientiousness

Discipline and conscientiousness are key German virtues that will be encountered whenever doing business with Germans, because only “the best” will “win”. This is why numbers and facts are decisive in business dealings with Germans and are to be heatedly discussed. Before making a final decision, the backdrop of the problem as well as the course of action must be elucidated. This has to happen to get close to the core of the matter. Germans want to know what they’re dealing with, and acquiring knowledge in advance is part of the process.

Hierarchy and respect

In German companies you will find clearly structured hierarchy. The communication style is part of this hierarchy as well, the German language has two forms of the word “you”. There is “du”, the informal version, used for and by family and friends, and then there is “Sie”, which is commonly used in business settings. Co-workers, or a boss should never be called “du”. They are formally called “Sie”, unless the higher ranking colleague introduces the “du”. However, it is considered extremely rude if a normal employee asks his boss whether he can call him “du”.

Individualism, honesty and perfectionism

Despite the hierarchies, individualism and independence are very highly rated in Germany. Employees do expect to be given precise and detailed instructions regarding their tasks, but then expect to be left alone with the matter without interference. If a problem comes up however, they are expected to inform everyone involved, but nevertheless solve the problem themselves. Since efficiency is impossible without everyone knowing about everything, Germans don’t lie about things just to “save their face”. They’re rather just upfront and honest. This Individualism is also part of the reason for the sparse use of compliments in Germany. Why should compliments or positive feedback of any sorts be necessary if Germans are expected to perform their tasks correctly, professionally and perfect anyway?

Business life or private life

Something that should never be done in Germany is to underestimate the strict separation between public/business life and one’s private life. Germans in business life are therefore often perceived as cold and even downright unfriendly, while in reality they’re just really good at varying their behavior around people in regards to the closeness of their relationship. This trait influences the question of personal space in meetings or at negotiations, a minimum of an arm’s length is the norm. Otherwise German people will quickly feel intimidated by their partner’s closeness. Therefore the usual greeting is not a hug, but much rather a formal handshake.

Last but not least: The German punctuality

Yes, punctuality is an important part of German business life. If an appointment is fixed for 1 pm, everyone arrives at 12:55 pm the latest. While being overly punctual is perfectly alright, being unpunctual is frowned upon quite heavily. It’s better to be an hour early than being just one minute late. After all, time is important, so it’s not a good idea to be guilty of stealing anyone’s time by showing up late.

Felicia Greiner, editor

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