Germans are uneasy with uncertainty and ambiguity. They like to analyse problems in great depth before reaching a conclusion and are uncomfortable with feelings or hunches in the business setting.
In-depth, long-term planning is both expected and respected. Such planning helps, in large measure, to shape the future.
The greatest amount of respect is due to the person with the greatest depth of technical merit. Therefore, education is highly prized.
Once decisions have been made, everybody is expected to carry them out without question, regardless of their agreement or disagreement with the original decision.
The boss is expected to know his/her subject and gives clear leadership. As there is a strong respect for authority, subordinates will rarely contradict the boss in public.
Outbursts of emotion in the workplace (anger, frustration etc.) are seen as signs of weakness and lack of professionalism.
Employees expect to be given precise, detailed instructions regarding specific tasks, but then expect to be left to carry them out without undue interference or supervision.
Relationships between bosses and subordinates tend to appear somewhat formal.
Appraisal systems are difficult to implement. Germans are expected to perform their tasks professionally and correctly. Why should positive feedback be necessary?
German companies tend to be hierarchical and departmentalised. Each department seems to guard its power base and information is expected to flow through proper channels.
Teams built across hierarchical lines tend to be difficult to arrange and manage as they interfere with the normal structures and rules.
Meetings tend to be formal, unless on a one-to-one basis. If you want to find out opinions, possible trends of thinking etc., it is often more successfully done in an informal one-to-one meeting.
Germans will usually arrive extremely well-prepared-for meetings with all the facts and figures at their disposal. The idea of attending an important meeting with no firm opinion would be quite unusual.
The truth does not lie in a compromise or middle ground between two conflicting ideas. Compromising can be seen as weakness, diffidence or uncertainty.
It is better to say nothing than to comment on topics about which you have no particular knowledge or expertise.
Internal information flow is top-down on a need-to-know basis. It is expected that superiors are better informed than others are.
More reliance is placed on the printed than the spoken word and it is always important, therefore, to put information, decisions etc. in writing.
Humour is generally out of place in the workplace. You should certainly avoid humour in all difficult or important business situations. However, when socialising with Germans you will find that they are as keen to enjoy themselves as you are.
Punctuality is important – do not be guilty of stealing time.
Germans may seem extremely formal – even amongst themselves. This over-formality is a sign of respect as is using the formal Sie and Herr or Frau with people they may have known for many years.
Written and Produced by Keith Warburton
This country profile has been produced to give a short overview of some of the key concepts to bear in mind when doing business with contacts in Germany. It is intended to be an aid to business people who have commercial dealings with counterparties in the country but should not be seen as an exhaustive guide to this topic or as a substitute for more substantial research should there be a need.
With this in mind, we have covered the areas which are key to a better understanding of the cultural mindset underpinning business dealings in Germany and which are, quite often, extremely different from the approach and thought processes associated with business in other parts of the world.
Therefore this briefing note is broken into short, bite-sized sections on the following topics: