Germany companies are becoming more commonplace in not just automotive supply chains (BMW, Bosch, Daimler), but in chemicals (BASF), pharmaceuticals (Bayer), industrial manufacturing (Siemens), and software (SAP). There are a lot of misperceptions on how to interact with German managers, so we have invited a guest blog from David Rainey, from Dammann German-English translations on some of the most common Misunderstandings Between Americans and Germans in Managing Buyer-Supplier Relationships.
Effective communication between German and American businesses is essential for business relationships to be fruitful. However, it’s not always possible to communicate in quite the same way as you might do within your own culture as you would do when discussing business transactions with a German.
Every country, including Germany, has a unique way of communicating and doing business. What is most important is the message that the communicator is trying to get across.
The sorts of things you should consider when arranging a business deal with a German client include:
- being aware of the full range of verbal and non-verbal language;
- keeping an open mind with reference to the views of others and how they do things.
First impressions are of great importance to Germans, as they are to many other nationalities and could have an impact on the outcome of any business deal. This means adopting certain non-verbal skills that your German counterpart will approve of, such as:
- ensuring you stand an arm’s length away when conversing with a German businessperson;
- keeping good eye contact is essential and respected while also indicating the conversation is important;
- keeping direct eye contact is essential when toasting. You should say “Prost!” while toasting with beer and “Zum wohl!” while toasting with a glass of wine;
- not extending your middle finger. This is a negative gesture as is pointing with the index finger to the head.
- being formal and reserved. One shouldn’t wave frantically to attract someone you know who is at distance from you.
- recognizing that many Germans appreciate privacy and quietness;
- exchanging business cards at a meeting;
- understanding that German businessmen may show how much they have enjoyed a presentation when a business meeting comes to a finish by tapping their knuckles on a table top.
The following etiquette should be followed when communicating with a German business person:
- Don’t phone a business associate in his or her home after 10 pm
- Business people are not in their offices after 5 p.m. from Monday to Thursday or on Friday after 4 p.m.
- When answering a phone call in Germany, you should identify yourself by referring to your last name.
In conversational situations in a business meeting, Germans are usually quite straightforward in approach and often only use a small number of chatty, but polite phrases. Typically, they tend to get to the point quite quickly and expect a result by the time the meeting has come to an end.
Avoiding common misunderstandings in a business meeting
As in any cross cultural situation, there is a possibility of misunderstanding, unless the participants are aware of differences in acceptable behaviour. These are some common situations which can lead to misunderstanding.
- If you only know a little German, you might be aware that there are two versions of the pronoun “you”. Unless you know a business colleague very well, it is safer to stick to the more formal “Sie” rather than the more informal “Du”. Using “Du” with people you do not know could be regarded as an insult.
- Even quite close colleagues will refer to each other formally and rarely, especially in a business meeting context, with first names, which is a much more common mannerism in the U.S. or Australia.
- It is polite to shake hands when meeting business partners or associates as well as when leaving them. Handshakes tend to be brief but firm. German businessmen tend to regard a wave rather than a handshake as impolite.
- Don’t try and make a fuss about paying the bill after a business meal if it was you that were invited. This is the responsibility of your hosts.
Author:- Alison Williams
My interest in writing became important to me in 2001 after I gained an MA in Applied Linguistics and I started to move into writing as a means of securing an income. I have since then specialised in writing blog posts and web pages for a variety of clients including those in the legal and translation niches. I have built up the ability as a highly skilled writer to communicate with a variety of audiences and in an array of styles and formats. Over the past few years, I have worked with executives, entrepreneurs, industry experts and many other professionals in writing and publishing, SEO web content, blogs, newspaper articles and more.