Business etiquette in Germany

Hello everybody,

As you know, professional habits may differ from one country to another. In order to help newly arrived expats better understand their new professional environment in Germany, we warmly encourage you to share information and insights about the do’s and don’ts in the workplace.

For instance, are there office manners? How do you greet your co-workers? Do you greet your management differently? Is there a dress code? Particular rules to observe? Maybe a professional body language?

On another level, what is key for a successful professional meeting? Are there any steps to follow? How do you a start a negotiation?

In other words, what are the most important things to know for a successful professional integration in Germany?

Thank you in advance for sharing your experience!


Guess most managers read Geert Hofstede's book. So I won't spend time on the obvious cultural differences.

There are a few proverbs that holds very very true :

"Lob ist kein Bringschuld" - No/Low key praise on an excellent job is normal. When something has to be said it is normally an indication that improvement is needed. Conversely - If a Brit/ Merican praises his/her German employees - most of the senior staff would see that with a negative note : it means you didn't expect them to deliver excelllent work.

"Mitarbeiter hat Bringschuld" - It's the job of your employees to bring information to their manager. He/She need not ask, regularly. He/She can decide what to do with it.

"Your Function defines you" -  Germany is a country of pride individualists that are all equal  - You are the professional in any job you do. There are probably  no-one in the whole organisation that does your job as well as you could. A floor sweeper can be proud and a CEO equally so. Personal indulgences are carefully separated from work. Your free time is yours, but work time is not mixed.

Der Ober stich den Unter - Act like an intelligent swarm with a queen bee.
Unlike other "all knowing/ no need to ask first/ I committed us to this hellhole"  Western/Eastern Inductive style managers, 
a German manager are obliged to ask/listen the expertise of his/her team members, first (deductive).
What he/she decides afterwards (to ignore/act /dismiss)  is his/her prerogative and binds a team.  This is trained meticulously in society - German children are trained in school that decisions can be utterly subjective - by having Verbal assessments that overrides all logic. You can have full marks on the math test, but your teacher can still decide that you are a 3rd grade student because (insert any subjective non-questionable argument here). 
A highly decentralized decisioning structure is a sign that German board-members trust their management culture and capitalize on their swarm intelligence. Communicating to any person in an organisation that are not in daily contact obliges formal respect "Sie" whether the person is lower or higher rank. Only on mutual agreement this "law" can be relaxed.  Unlike Eastern culture organisations, employees can communicate and efficiently exchange information beyond their direct chain of command to complete a task (an unspoken sign of trust).

"Ross und Reiter nennen" - Call a spade a spade in a highly polite suggestion. The more specific the instruction - the lower you are in rank. Beating around the bush by asking rhetoric/leading questions to save face/expose is British, and a waste of efficient time. The French & British style of indirectly prodding /declaring social status at the start of meetings under the umbrella of social niceties, is a taboo (ie hunting icebears in alaska, catering a skipper (boat) to sail around the carribean. Meetings starts with an agenda - and Germans respect privacy outside work activitities.

Knallharte Trennung Familien/Arbeit - If you have a problem at home, It's your problem. Act as mature team-member - don't load your collegeaus or worse your manager with it. Unlike in India - your manager is not your daddy - he expects you to show independence and strength of character to overcome private issues yourself. Job issues obliges you to inform him/her. Of course you can ask help/opinions for private matters , but then you are perceived weak. Ellbogengesellschaft - competition, achievement and success means you as an individualist have to learn to survive indepedently, since the team of specialists might be reassembled anyway tomorrow.

...,much more to write here - but let's see some other opinions first...

Just offhand, I would mention the expected dress code for the workplace. It varies from city to city a bit but in Stuttgart few people, even business men and professionals, wear a suit and tie. Some yes, but not a lot. I think the expected dress code at this level would  thus be more casual than in the US. Paradoxically, for nearly all other jobs, it is not acceptable to be overly casual. Unlike in the US, one will not see jogging pants, shorts, halter tops or bikini tops worn to work even when the weather is warm. A few decades ago, one hardly saw mean wear shorts even in their free time in summer. This has changed a bit but the connotation still exists that shorts are for kids and not adult men, at least at work.

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