Frankfurt's networking etiquette

networking etiquette
Updated 2022-11-05 14:20

Frankfurt is such an exciting city, and in order to make the most of your expat life here, you should dedicate some energy to creating a social and professional network. The networking etiquette in Frankfurt is not that different from the etiquette in other major cities in Germany.

Given the city's diversity and business and finance advancement, most residents are familiar with navigating cultural differences with curiosity and patience. Hence, the city is an excellent spot to meet people from all walks of life, address and challenge your prejudices, and expand your network. Nevertheless, to network effectively and maximize your networking opportunities, you should follow the networking etiquette and especially its most important points summarised in this article. 

Spoken language in Frankfurt

As it is all over Germany, the German language is the primary language of use and it is spoken at work among colleagues regardless of how international the company is, meaning that business may be conducted in English; however, small talk at work and everyday communication in the office is in German. Of course, there are exceptions, but you should be aware that you are expected to at least make an effort to speak and understand German if you want to be approached by German people and create an additional network of non-expats in and outside work. 

Tip: Learn German to be able to follow the etiquette, which requires a minimum level of German language knowledge for socializing purposes with the German people of Frankfurt. 

First contact in Frankfurt

Germans may seem slightly reserved at first, as they don't tend to open up easily about their personal and family matters, and they like to keep their professional and personal lives separately. You are expected to be discreet when interacting with people you don't know that well — whether they are colleagues, friends of friends, or acquaintances. Thus, don't ask questions that may be regarded as too personal (e.g., earnings, political and religious beliefs, questions about the family or family planning, etc.), and similarly, don't feel bad saying it if you feel that someone has crossed a line.

Tip: Meeting someone for the first time gives you several minutes to make a good first impression. Maintain eye contact, especially in professional contexts, and don't be afraid to remain quiet if you feel that you have nothing to add to the conversation. 

Building rapport at work in Frankfurt

Since Frankfurt is a business-oriented city, personal relationships among new arrivals can be secondary to work, as many expats come to Frankfurt for work. Punctuality, solutions-based analytical thinking, and hard work are well respected and can be a cornerstone of a good business relationship. The business world, especially in large corporations, tends to be hierarchical and academic backgrounds are important. Overall, Germans are straightforward, so you will be able to grasp immediately what point they wish to make, what they expect from you, and how much space you are allowed for creativity. Germans have a high social conscience, and while they are reserved and like to talk about work, they genuinely care about topics such as sustainability, climate change, and human rights.

Good to know: 

When speaking to a person, titles are significant. In the business world, people tend to be addressed by their last name and a title (i.e., Herr or Frau), and if an additional title is known (i.e., Doctor), it should also be mentioned.

Business meetings in Frankfurt

Organizing a good business meeting shows competence and professionalism. It is important to have a well-prepared agenda that has been explained ahead to all of the members. Punctuality is a must, as well as good preparation. Data and visual materials prepared in German are great elements to add to a PowerPoint presentation, even if English will be the primary language. Some business meetings can also occur over lunch or dinner, which often is a sign of trust and good intentions. Following the restaurant etiquette, it is essential to delay business conversations until everyone has been served and hosts have wished Guten Appetit to all.

Negotiating in Frankfurt

When trying to get a job in Frankfurt or make a business deal with Germans, it is important to understand that it is not easy to convince them without evidence, facts, and some knowledge of the German language. Germans are competitive professionals, ambitious and skeptical, which is why it is vital to have a consistent and serious approach when wanting to achieve a professional goal. When discussing a topic, a direct approach is usually respected. However, decision-making is quite a slow and complex process, and it should not be rushed. Informal behavior is rarely liked, and jokes, slang, or confrontational behavior almost never bring any good chance of getting a deal. A good and strong handshake before and after a meeting is always a good sign!

Networking events in Frankfurt

Attending networking events in Frankfurt, such as happy hour meetups, career fairs, conferences, book presentations, and seminars that are specific to your interests, brings a lot of opportunities to meet new people. Regardless of the type of event, it is important to act formally and follow proper etiquette (e.g., say “please” and “thank you”, don't use swear words and other offensive language, use formal greetings and titles of respect, don't interrupt others, and wear proper clothes). 

Before attending a networking event, it is a good idea to do a little bit of homework and get informed about the participants of the particular event you wish to attend in order to know whom you would like to approach and what points of discussion you could raise (e.g., learning about a new product, service, or trend in your sector). To approach an interesting speaker or participant, you can congratulate them on their most recent work or an element about their work that you admire and give a short introduction of yourself along with your business card if you have one. 

Germans may feel a bit uncomfortable when receiving compliments. However, they will surely be kind and polite as long as you are not too pushy or irrelevant. The following day, you can send an email to remind them of your meeting and express directly what it is that you would like to achieve from your interaction with them. Remember, Germans like straightforward communication!

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