10 Do’s and Don’ts of German Business Etiquette

German Business Etiquette
German business culture is very structured, with strict punctuality and well defined hierarchies within businesses. They value frank communication and honesty and will respond well to data, with facts and figures more important than intuition. 

1. Be on Time

Like Swedish buisness etiquette, punctuality is very important in Germany. The business culture (and culture in general) is built around organising the day into manageable chunks, and this method necessitates meetings running on time and when scheduled.

Being late to a meeting could cause offence. If you have a good reason, be sure to call ahead and let your German colleagues know. It is always best to arrive early to essential meetings (such as the first time you are introduced) with German business associates.

2. Dress Professionally

German corporate dress codes require smart, conservative, professional clothing. You will find male business people in dark suits and neat shirts, while women are most likely to wear dark pant-suits alongside white blouses or smart dresses.

Even in warmer weather, dressing up in German business etiquette is best. If your German colleagues remove jackets and ties while doing business, you can follow suit; but always allow them to lead on that front.

In social settings, Germany is much more liberal. Especially in the cosmopolitan cities such as Berlin, expect to see cool, edgy fashion in pubs and clubs. However, if you’re unsure, smart casual shirts and trousers are always a good bet!

3. Meetings and Greetings

Begin each meeting with a firm handshake while maintaining suitable eye contact. The German handshake is short and hardy. Introduce yourself with your full name and title – titles are very respected, and unless someone gives you express position, it’s always best to refer to them using their title.

Firm business handshake
Begin meeting with a firm handshake

Business meetings will likely start with some small talk. However, unlike in some cultures, this is not considered a necessity. Expect the meeting to start abruptly and on time, even if ambient conversation occurs.

German business practices are very structured, and meetings follow the same pattern. There will be agendas and assigned roles.

4. Business cards don’t matter

If they are exchanged, it is done so as a necessity, without any particular etiquette surrounding the swap. Most people will use smart phones to take down numbers/email addresses instead.

5. Lovers of Structure

As mentioned before, Germans very much enjoy structure. This is no different in their business lives: they follow a strict and well defined hierarchy of responsibilities.

Each team member will have their own roles responsibilities to take care of, and it would be rude to step across those lines.

Ranks are usually determined by expertise, qualifications, and experience. Academic titles are very well respected in German culture, and are given strong prominence.

6. Frank and straightforward negotiators

They will tell you what they want and what they think, and are not afraid to be blunt. They are certainly not afraid of saying ‘no’ if something is not to their liking during business negotiations.

Germans put a lot of stock in facts and figures. A German company is much more likely to be swayed by somebody who can provide robust data than one who can put together a fancy argument.

7. Gifting Rituals

Gift giving is not essential or expected part of making business relationships in Deutschland. Like most European countries, the best tactic is reciprocation: if somebody offers a gift, it is usually a good idea to return one.

Appropriate business gifts include: office items, stationary branded with a company logo, or alcohol.

In social situations, it is common to bring a small gift for the host to show thanks for the invitation. Such gifts include a bottle of wine, a box of chocolates, or some flowers.

8. The Social Side

Though social gatherings in Germany follow much the same patterns as found in most english speaking and western countries, there are a few cultural differences and quirks that can trip you up.

Make sure you are on time to any social gatherings. Fashionably late is not fashionable in Germany! Shake hands with everybody upon arrival.

When toasting, use the word ‘prost’ and ensure to keep eye contact. Toasting without eye contact is considered bad luck.

Before a meal, wait for the host to begin eating. It is customary in Germany to wish everybody a good meal before anybody takes the first bite – the phrase ‘Guten appetit’ is a good one to learn for this instance.

Whoever sends the invites will pick up the bill, and arguing could be seen as rude. Tipping is not as necessary in Germany due to higher wages – 5-10% is more than enough.

9. Say What You Mean

Germans are frank, direct, and upfront in their communication style. They are not afraid to call a spade a spade. This can come across as rudeness to some foreign visitors, but take it as a sign of respect: they do not wish to waste your time with pointless platitudes.

A good example of this is the way Germans pick up the phone. Rather than saying ‘hello’ and starting with small talk, they will simply state their last name and expect you to get to the point.

Keep eye contact while speaking, and try to avoid standing with your hands in your pockets. In German culture, pointing at your own head is seen as insulting.

10. Work Culture in Germany

People take corporate social responsibility very seriously. Expect environmental matters to be of top priority to your German business partners.

Germany is a very clean country in terms of corruption. It ranked 9th out of 180 countries with a score of 79/100 in the Corruption Perception Index.

A work week in Germany must not exceed 48 hours. In reality, Germany has a relatively short working week, with the average worker doing between 36 and 40 hours of work.

What is a common understanding of business etiquette in Germany?

The cliche regarding German culture is of joyless, ruthless efficiency. This is only partly correct. Germans love structure and can be very frank and direct. However, they are also a helpful, friendly group of people – they show it in a less obviously outgoing way.

Dos and Don’ts in German Business

Do’s ✅Don’ts ❌
Be clear with your communicationBe offended by frank communication
Stick to the agenda of a business meetingRush negotiations
Be prepared to provide facts and figuresStart eating without wishing everyone a happy meal
Be on timeWear overly expressive or casual clothes to business events

Jack Fairey

Jack is a writer based in west London, England. He is a keen traveler, and has a particular interest in the fascinating differences in etiquette across the world. When not writing, he can be found dreaming up his next trip to far off places.

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