German Business - Frowns and Debates

Are German business executives more likely to frown, than smile? Will international business meetings with Germans turn into a debate? When negotiating with Germans, you must first understand the culture traits that make them so serious and so successful.

Germany is emerging as a European leader in driving growth. Few countries have accomplished so much on the international business front. There are companies that avoid the Germans believing they are too abrupt; too likely to argue; and too skeptical. Some perceive other European countries to be friendlier and easier to conduct business.

Perceptions are not necessarily reality. Smiles are over-rated. For over five years, I worked for German executives. They are excellent negotiators and outstanding international business drivers. By better understanding, the culture issues that are behind German business mannerisms, your meetings, relations, and opportunities will improve.

Here are some German business culture concepts:

  • Germans stay on schedule. It is a culture that gets disturbed when a train is one minute late. Punctuality is in their DNA. Meetings will begin and end on time, no matter how abrupt it may appear;
  • A German business expression is, "Dienst ist Dienst und Schnapps ist Schnapps," or work is work and drink is drink. In other words, there is a clear line between a German executive's business and personal lives. Some small talk creeps into their personal discomfort, so they tend to minimize it;
  • Most German executives have great senses of humor. After a good laugh, their smiles quickly fade. Sitting in public with a grin on your face appears odd, like there is some type of mental issue. This is a common trait in many European countries, not just Deutschland;
  • Germans ask many direct questions, and appear quick to enter a business debate. In Germany, questions and debates tend to improve understanding and help create more ideas and options. Even when a German executive likes a proposal, they will push you to assure it is robust;
  • Duty and commitment are important with Germans. When an American says, "I will do my best," they mean they will try, but they are not committing to success. When German executives promise to do their best, they will apply their greatest efforts and likely succeed. Germans expect unambiguous commitment to a plan.

Once you understand the cultural issues, it is easier to adapt to the business discussions. Be on time and be ready to start at the appointed hour. Minimize small talk and do not ask personal questions. They will enjoy a joke, but do not expect a continued grin. Be prepared for a good debate with back-up data. Do not take challenges personally. Push back, when you disagree. Be assertive and clear about commitments

There are countries in Europe and around the world that appear friendlier and more fun for business. Friendly and fun may lead to delays, ambiguity, and failure. Comfort aside, German business people: mean what they say; say what they mean; and deliver their commitments on time.

Few countries find the same success roaming the international business world as Germany. They are an important partner. Adapt to German cultural business styles. It will drive success for you and your company. At the end of the day, your German partner is more likely to smile and share a beer or schnapps with you. Prosit!

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