Business etiquette in Germany

Five things to keep in mind if you want to work in Germany.

Many companies have flat hierarchies
Many companies have flat hierarchies Getty Images

Of course, an appropriate appearance and correct manners are expected in professional life. But what is particularly important in Germany? Depending on what country you come from, the cultural differences can be great. Christina Röttgers, an expert in cultural competence from Cologne, explains what you need to know about German business etiquette in order to avoid misunderstandings.

Flatter hierarchies

In many countries, hierarchical structures apply in working life, says Röttgers. "The boss delegates not responsibility but tasks." In Germany, most companies are organized less hierarchically. Independent work is required. The supervisor gives the employee responsibility for a task or project and relies on him or her doing everything in the appropriate manner. In case of problems, the employee gives feedback in good time.

Work and private life

In Asia, Africa, South America and South-eastern Europe, working life is often group-oriented in Röttgers's perception. In Germany, colleagues tend to keep job and privacy separate. "Many people who come here are therefore lonely", she says. "They have little chance of establishing private contacts through work."

Eye contact and handshake

As a greeting, business partners shake hands, but apart from the handshake, touch in the workplace is inappropriate. Looking each other in the eye, however, is completely normal in Germany and signals attention and interest.

Reliability

Germans expect all participants to arrive punctually and prepared for a meeting. If you cannot, you should say so. "Germans have internalized structures", explains Röttgers, "they keep promises and deadlines".

Direct communication

Germans usually cultivate a factual manner of discussion in working life. Work conversations are focused on content; after brief small talk, you get to the point quickly. "Germans want to convince you with skills and therefore show them. This is the way they develop trust", says Röttgers. Her tip: don’t take criticism at the factual level personally.

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