German language and business culture

Grace Azadvar, Linguamax

A highly competitive European market, so patience and persistence are keys to success 

English is widely taught in Germany and Germans pick up English from songs, movies and other cultural sources from a young age.  It should not be assumed that familiarity with English is a given, especially in the former GDR where Russian was the second language, or in dealings with smaller companies and public sector authorities.

Whenever important contractual matters are being discussed it is wise to have an interpreter on hand. When sending information to potential contacts the introductory letter should preferably be in German and your company brochures should either be in German or contain an insert written in German.

Meetings and Presentations
Whoever represents your company must be a senior manager who can speak on behalf of the company and has the authority to take decisions on the spot. If the person concerned can speak German this would be a bonus.   German business people are generally very busy people, so punctuality is expected, and a professional approach generally is expected. First names terms are not common in German Business relationships.

Meetings are generally more formal than in Britain. You should shake hands with all those present in a meeting. Small talk is fine, but only after the important business of the meeting has been concluded. Try to avoid British humour as this could be misunderstood in a preliminary meeting.  There will be times and opportunities for a less formal relationship, but do allow the relationship to grow first!  Be patient and polite during your negotiations. You may also have to be persistent. 

It is vitally important to be very well prepared for negotiations. Technical specifications and prices are very often discussed from the outset and so you must be in a position to talk about the terms of any proposed collaboration from the off.  Although a lot of Germans speak English and enjoy speaking English, many will prefer to stick to German during negotiations. It would be worthwhile, therefore, to bring an interpreter along to the meetings.

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