American businesses are fairly unique in that, for the most part, operate inside the U.S. Many of them do operate and trade with foreign countries, but their headquarters are usually inside the U.S. and small businesses typically never have to deal with foreign nations ever. This sounds not necessarily bad, but it’s not necessarily great either. Specifically operating inside the U.S. leaves many businesses unaware of any other forms or styles of business etiquette or practice. They are only ever exposed to other American companies and cliques that never intermingle with the whole often reflect similar characteristics. Again, this isn’t always a bad property to have, but some practices could use a little outside influence.
A Time and a Place
For Germans, there comes a time and a place for humor and casual conversations to be held. When conducting business however, it is neither the time nor place. Although Germans do have a sense of humor, it is very different than American comedy and it is never mixed with serious matters. Conducting business should never involve frivolous conversations. The goal is to go in, speak quickly, concisely, and comprehensively about the topic.
There are certain expectations German business people have when conducting business and especially when running a meeting/presentation. One of the most important things that are always expected of presenters and fellow businessmen is preparedness. Never arrive at a meeting or luncheon without everything that you need to either present or propose your business ideas. If you do not have everything you need for the meeting, for example a projector, then contact the place you are presenting at and make sure they can provide one for you. In addition to bringing all the necessary supplies, be sure that all your presentation materials, PowerPoint, prototypes, etc., are in order and functioning as they should. It is considered very embarrassing for things to not go according to plan. (I think that is fairly universal across all cultures of business though.) Across the board, Germans expect others to come prepared.
This is a huge concept for Germans. They never waste time and hate when they have to, especially in their profession. Tardiness is never acceptable in German business culture. This doesn’t mean arrive exactly on time either, arriving on the dot could easily be considered late. I know this sound ridiculous, but you should always arrive at LEAST 10 minutes early. 15 is better and 20 is better yet. You are better off waiting around to review your notes or presentation than running late and having to rush through your meeting.
Good Luck Out There
These are all very important bits of information to remember when conducting business with Germans. There’s also a lot here that should be incorporated into American business culture. However, keep in mind that these rules are not always definite and that exceptions are always made. Ask someone else in the deal or business you are working with for appropriate customs and behavior before you engage in communication. And don’t forget that cultures change, and so do these business customs. Good luck out there.