A good first impression helps build trust and creates the basis for a longterm business relationship. However, what is deemed good behaviour can vary widely from culture to culture – for example in relation to small talk, body language and dress code. We show you how to make a good impression in Germany.
You will frequently meet new people in your professional life – in your new department, during appointments with customers and at conferences. In Germany, great importance is placed on greeting and addressing people correctly.
The basic rule at the workplace is that you first of all greet the people who are hierarchically superior to you. These include, for example, older colleagues, as well as customers. Depending on the time of day, you can greet them with a friendly and clearly audible “Guten Morgen", “Guten Tag” or “Guten Abend”. If you are greeted by colleagues or a boss – in the company corridor or on the way to work, for example – always return the greeting. Not to greet someone is considered extremely impolite in Germany. And don’t be shy: look your interlocutor in the eye in a friendly manner. That will not be perceived as pushy; it just shows that you are paying attention to them.
In Germany, you will often be greeted with a handshake. If someone holds out their hand in greeting, respond with a short, firm handshake with your right hand. At the same time, pay attention to your body language and don't put your left hand in your trousers pocket, for example.
When you meet someone for the first time, introduce yourself briefly with your first and last name. Your interlocutor will then do the same in return. To get the small talk going, you can also mention your position in the company. That provides an opportunity to strike up a conversation and get to know one another better. In Germany, people usually use the “Sie” form of address at work.
If you are taking part in a meeting or business negotiations, when you enter the meeting room first of all greet all the attendees already present. Inversely, it is considered polite – when meeting customers, for example – to stand up to greet arriving attendees.
If you bring a new colleague to a meeting or business appointment, do the introductions yourself to make it easier for him or her. When doing so, give their full name (first and last names) and also name their academic title and their position in the company.
Your body language reveals a lot about you – how you're feeling at a given moment, and whether you are going to be perceived as interested or tired. Depending on people's cultural environment, different gestures and postures can mean different things.
While physical proximity in some (business) cultures can signal liking and belonging, in the business sphere in Germany value is placed on physical distance. Your interlocutors will appreciate a distance of a good arm’s length. Meet them with respect and politeness. You can express this quite simply through your body language: a friendly facial expression, an erect posture turned towards them and eye contact express your interest. Inversely, it is considered impolite to avoid eye contact during a conversation or discussion or to glance constantly at your mobile phone, tablet or documents.
A groomed appearance and a style of dress appropriate for your professional situation go a long way to making a good first impression. Your appearance and clothes are frequently the first thing that other people perceive about you.
For your interview or your first day in your new job, you can ask your new employer about dress code or get an idea yourself by looking at the company Web site – from photos of employees, for example. In the business sphere, especially at business negotiations, business meals or on formal occasions such as an interview, Germans tend to prefer a conservative way of dressing. A businesslike manner will therefore also be mirrored in your clothes.
For formal occasions such as an interview, business outfit number one in Germany is a suit. Colours tend to be discreet. Men’s suits are generally dark grey or blue, or brown. They are worn with a light shirt; the only individual touch your outfit can have is the tie. Ties with Santa Claus figures or other such prints are to be avoided, however. Your socks should also match your shoes and suit.
The dress code for women usually dictates a jacket-and-skirt combination or a trouser suit. Avoid too bright a choice of colour or colour combinations in your clothing. You can round off your outfit with smart shoes that match the colour of your outfit. Women and men alike should wear shoes, not sandals. For women, the rule of thumb is that your heels should not be too high (no higher than 6cm).
Business outfits that show too much skin are generally not suitable everyday work attire. For women, this means that blouses and tops should not be low-cut and shoulders should be covered. Skirts should not be too short and should come down to at least one handbreadth above the knee. If you opt for a skirt and jacket or skirt and top, wear them with tights. If you want to be on the safe side, take an extra pair to replace them. Men should take care to wear long trousers and socks that do not reveal the legs (even when sitting). Shirts are worn buttoned up to the top. With well-cut, quality clothes you will not only feel good, you will also be emphasising your esteem for the company, your superiors and your customers.
Ask friends and acquaintances who work in the same line of business in Germany. A formal business look is not expected everywhere. The "right” style of clothing can vary from sector to sector. On a building site you will dress in a different way than in the creative or financial sector. During your first few days in your company take a good look around and ask if there are any unwritten rules – “casual Friday”, for example, on which business dress can be replaced by more casual dress.