The 6 Most Common Business Blunders in Germany (And How to Avoid Them)

Should you find yourself conducting business affairs with colleagues or clients in Germany, you probably know that there is a whole new set of business etiquette that, as an English-speaker, you aren’t too savvy about.  As the foreigner, it is your duty to become well-versed in these unwritten rules of interaction so as to keep dealings as smooth as possible.  Germany has a very exact, highly calibrated culture, and Germans often find it frustrating when things don’t go according to plan.  Make sure you avoid these top mistakes, and you will ensure that your business relationships develop smoothly with as little culture shock as possible.

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Being late.  While showing up late to a meeting is bad form in any culture, it’s particularly insulting in the German business realm.  In a country that likes its schedules to be efficient and predictable, lateness communicates a lack of respect for the time and efforts of everyone you work with.  Don’t do it!

Rushing things.  The maxim “slow and steady wins the race” is never truer than it is in German business.  They like to deliberate on important decisions, often mulling over all aspects of the situation with a separate group of advisors.  Making a fast decision will be viewed as flippant and irresponsible, and may lead to your German colleagues not taking you seriously.

Dressing inappropriately.  While certain countries, such as Italy or Brazil, have a flashier style when it comes to business professional dress, the code in Germany is much more uniform.  Be sure to always wear a dark suit—men should not even wear brightly colored ties, and women should keep make-up and jewelry to a minimum.

Image 2Excessive small talk.  When it comes to small talk and breaking the ice, most Germans would prefer to get right to the point.  Don’t be offended by this directness—it is their way of reassuring you that your time isn’t being wasted.

Body language.  In business meetings, you will want to shake hands with everyone both at the beginning and the end—make sure you have a firm, confident handshake and that you meet the other person’s eyes.  Your German colleague may nod or slightly bow while shaking your hand, and it is good manners to do the same.

Addressing colleagues impolitely.  Status is very important in the business world and must always be acknowledged.  Make sure you always address colleagues by their formal titles—Herr for Mr., or Frau for Mrs. or Ms. followed by their family name.  Always address business associates as Sie, the formal “you,” rather than Du, which is for friends and family members only.

If you’re interested in delving more into the tricky world of German business etiquette, it’s imperative that you start learning German as soon as possible.  Send us an enquiry and we’ll get you started right away, or you can take our free online German language level test and see how good your German is!