Once you’ve made it into the world of work in Germany, business negotiations and formal business meals await you. We show you which rules of behaviour and procedures to follow to ensure that you always act appropriately and professionally.
After taking your first steps in the work sphere, you will no doubt soon be taking part in business negotiations or be invited to a business meal. As you can probably imagine, these kinds of meetings are carefully planned and nothing is left to chance. Luckily, there are a few procedures and rules of behaviour to guide you.
In Germany, business negotiations often take place according to a rather formal procedure. The invitation comes a few weeks in advance, usually with a detailed agenda. Dress to look as business-like as possible for the appointment, because here too, the first impression is very important. Whatever the case, be punctual. If you can’t make it in time, notify your business partners immediately and apologise.
It is at least equally important to keep to the agreed agenda, as that is the only way to ensure that the talks take place in a structured manner. During the meeting, switch your mobile phone to silent mode and devote your whole attention to your interlocutors.
Business negotiations are strictly about business and in Germany are dealt with in an extremely focused manner. This is why it is better to avoid any extraneous topics of conversation. As a general rule, all the results are summarised again at the end and a few days later you receive an overview of the most important decisions. German agreements are typically extremely detailed, and binding. This is why there are rarely subsequent renegotations. Once a decision has been made or a contract signed, you can safely assume that all those involved will adhere to it.
A business meal is a kind of informal business negotiation, except that you eat at the same time. In Germany, you meet for a business meal either when a contract is about to be signed or is to be celebrated, or when you want to get to know new business partners. Such occasions are all about “networking”. If you are making an appointment for lunch, this will usually take place between 11:30am and 1:30pm; an evening meal will take place between 6:00pm and 8:00pm.
Regardless of the occasion, the best thing to do is to treat it as you would a business negotiation. Make sure you arrive punctually and dress appropriately. Here again, you cannot go wrong by adopting the business look. However, a casual business look is often enough. If you don't know one another very well yet, personal topics are usually best avoided at table. But here again, there are wide differences from company to company. The best thing to do is simply to wait and see how familiar your superiors get. If you don’t feel sure of yourself, stick to informal small talk.
In Germany, good table manners are important. The best thing to do is watch how your colleagues behave. You start to eat after your host has said a few words. Don’t be surprised to see a variety of cutlery by the side of your plate. Each set of cutlery is meant for a different course. However, you cannot go wrong if you simply start on the outside and work your way in. When the meal is served, wait until everyone at the table has got their food, then everyone begins eating together.
If the business meal is in the evening, alcohol is permitted but is by no means obligatory. But make sure you do not drink too much – it is a business meal, after all. When everyone has finished their dessert, you can start to talk business. Once everything has been discussed, unlike in formal business negotiations contracts are rarely signed. Agreements are simply sealed with a handshake. However, this kind of a handshake should be taken just as seriously.
Once the evening has come to a successful close, the only remaining question is who pays the bill. If you were explicitly invited, you do not need to pay for anything. If all the guests pay their own bill, you should leave a tip for the restaurant staff. Simply add ten percent to the amount of your bill.
Gifts are not a necessity in business negotiations in Germany. Your colleagues will certainly be delighted to receive a little something from your home country. But remember that bribery and corruption are prohibited in Germany and attempts to use them are frowned upon! Some companies have strict guidelines on this. Find out about your company’s guidelines.