Germans are often uneasy with uncertainty, ambiguity and unquantifiable risk. This has become manifest in both social and business spheres. Socially, Germans lean towards conservatism and conformism.
When doing business in Germany it is possible to notice a heavy emphasis on careful planning, consideration, consultation and consensus. This has developed an appreciation for detail, facts and statistics. Organisation is a means of negating uncertainty and averting risk.
Aversion to Risk
The emphasis on conformity combined with a fear of the unknown makes Germans very apprehensive about risk. Security is guaranteed through risk analysis. This is achieved through careful deliberation and scrutiny based upon factual evidence as opposed to intuition or 'gut-feeling'. Written documentation is seen as the safest and most objective medium for analysis. A painstaking review of details ensures all relevant information has been taken into consideration.
Germans value their privacy. Mentally there is a divide between public and private life. As a result, Germans wear a protective shell when doing business. Since intimacy is not freely given, this may be interpreted as coldness. However, this is not the case. After a period of time walls and barriers eventually fall allowing for more intimate relationships to develop.
Communication styles in Germany may be perceived as direct, short and to the point. Formality dictates that emotions and unnecessary content do not have a place in conversation.
Doing Business - Meeting & Greeting
Firm, brief handshakes are the norm when doing business in Germany. When several people are being introduced take turns to greet each other rather than reaching over someone else's hands. Avoid shaking hands with one hand in your pocket. When women enter a room it is considered polite for men to stand.
German etiquette requires you to address someone using Herr (Mr.) or Frau (Mrs/Ms) followed by their surname. Only family members and friends use first names. Professional titles should also be used for doctors, academics, etc. Try and establish professional titles prior to any meeting.
Doing Business - Punctuality
When doing business in Germany, remember that punctuality is a serious issue. Business people work hard and are under a lot of pressure. Germans typically plan their time very carefully. It is considered bad etiquette to be late or early as it shows disrespect for peoples' time.
Doing Business - Humour
A common misconception is that the German sense of professionalism and strict protocol when doing business leaves no room for humour. An element of this true in that jokes are not commonplace. Yet Germans, just as much as anyone else, like to laugh and as long as it is appropriate, tasteful and in context then humour is acceptable.
Doing Business - Meetings and Negotiations
Germans plan ahead. Therefore, ensure you book meetings at least 2-3 weeks in advance. This is also applicable if you wish to have lengthy telephone conversations. Meetings are usually held between 11-1 p.m. and 3-5 p.m. Avoid Friday afternoons, the holiday months of July, August and December