Show Your Boss You Mean Business by Learning German Workplace Etiquette
If you’re planning on spending time in a German workplace soon and aren’t sure what to expect, this is a good place to start. Learning about other cultures before you interact with them is a great way to show your respect—and it doesn’t hurt with business negotiations either. This list, while a good rule of thumb, is not a catch all. If you are doing business with start-up run by a younger crowd, then some of this might not apply. When in doubt, follow the lead of those around you.
Respect the Attitude
The work environment in Germany is generally on the conservative side of the spectrum. Anything impromptu or unexpected may not be appreciated, so be sure to make appointments for meetings, and arrive at them promptly. As far as your clothing goes, err on the side of understated business dress. What this means is nothing flashy or ostentatious to distract from the task at hand. Save any particularly attention grabbing articles of clothing for your day off.
Some foreigners may find it difficult to adjust to the no-nonsense attitude presented in a number of German offices, but this may work to your advantage. Some other cultures value personal relationships and generally try to do business with those they already know or like, but in the German workplace as long as you are straightforward with your intentions and present things in an honest way, your status as an outsider won’t be as detrimental to your office life as you previously thought.
Respect Personal Space
Again, this may be easier for some foreigners than others. Generally speaking, Germans typically aren’t very touchy-feely people. Try to avoid pats on the shoulder or back; though they denote encouragement or approval in the business cultures of other countries, those types of interactions may not be welcome in this one.
One’s office is an extension of a person’s personal space, and should be treated as such. German offices usually don’t have an open door policy, so be sure to knock and wait for someone to respond before entering.
The exception to the personal space rule is handshaking. This can be used as a general greeting, but it is also customary to shake hands with everyone in a room before and after a meeting. A weak handshake denotes uncertainty in one’s abilities, so show ‘em what you’re made of and keep your handshake firm and brief.
German workers tend to adhere closely to the office hierarchy, so remember to defer to the higher ups and follow their lead. Use titles and surnames when addressing colleagues until they ask you to use their first name.
Depending on the work environment you’re used to, all of this may leave you feeling a bit out of sorts. Not to worry, just observe what your coworkers do and try your best to learn from their example. This is the advice I give out most often for a reason, because people notice and appreciate this kind of commitment. If you really want to show your dedication, try learning a bit of German. If you already know a few phases try our Language Level Test to see how you measure up. If you find you want to improve your skills or learn German from the ground up, Contact Us and we’ll be glad to help you out.
What kind of work environment do you come from and how does it differ from the typical German workplace?