When dealing with Germans in business or visiting Germany, you feel that everybody speaks English. In fact, most white collar workers and managerial positions require a certain knowledge of English; with upper management speaking nearly fluent. However, just speaking the language is sometimes not enough to UNDERSTAND your business partner or client in front of you. Here some facts and tips on how Germans communicate:
Shake hands 'hello and good-by' with everybody using a firm grip (not crushing). You are judge by your firm hand shake and convey strength and trustworthiness. Make good eye contact! Again, very important for Germans! Women, regardless of rank, are always greeted first. Then follow the rank of the male participants.
Germans are very sensitive to titles. Listen carefully to which titles are used during introductions and be sure to use them. Germans use titles (Herr, Frau, Dr., Professor, etc.) and last names for every one except close friend who have mutually agreed to using first names. Failure to use the title with the name can be offensive to a German.
Small-talk and personal topics:
Germans are very protective of their personal life when conducting business. The American-style friendliness of making small-talk at the beginning of a business relationship or conversation is very uncomfortable for Germans. It is all about business and therefore the personal life is left out. It doesn't factor into the trust equation like it does for Americans. However, once a successful business relationship has been establish, personal topics become more frequent during conversations.
Germans tend to be very directi in their communication and may seem abrupt at times to an American especially if more negative issues are discussed. Don't be offended and just listen and taking it in without personal emotions to handle the issue. You will hear the word "Ja" quite often in discussions which is the German word for 'Yes'. However, it doesn't mean they agree, it simply means 'Ok - I am listening'.
Germans are very reserved when it comes to personal space. Not like French or Italians, where kisses, shoulder claps and hugs are common way to greeting each other, Germans stay with shaking hands, lifting the hand or nodding with their head as a gesture of saying 'hello'. However, when meeting German business partners, always shake hands!
Again, once the relationship matures, the personal space can be a little smaller and pats on the shoulders can be allowed.
Never put your hands in your pockets when talking to Germans - this is considered very rude. Also, do not chew gum or candy - eating in front of Germans besides dinner / lunch table is considered very rude as well.
ALWAYS introduce yourself with your name and business when calling somebody: 'Hello / Good day, this is Herr/Frau Lastname from the xyz company. May I speak to....'. Even if you have your desired conversation partner on the line, introduce yourself. Germans hate to not know right away whator who they are dealing with.
Need more tips on how to do business with Germans? Give us a call and talk to the experts! Business experience in Germany, Switzerland and the US for more than 25 years! Danke und bis bald.
And don't forgot to look out for Part 2 of this blogging series on How to do business with Germans / German Business Etiquette!