GERMANY
COMMUNICATION
 
 
 
 
 

VERBAL

Conversation Guidelines
"Small talk" is avoided in the German workplace as it is looked at as a waste of time.  To start a conversation avoid asking what someone does for a living and especially avoid compliments as they tend to embarrass German people, making them uncomfortable.  While a political conversation would be welcomed by a German worker, it is wise for one to make sure that he or she is first well versed on German politics.  Finally, interruptions are frowned upon by Germans as they expect to be heard before the opposing party gives a response.
Topics To Avoid
 The main topic to avoid is anything in relation to World War II and more specifically the Holocaust.  Questions relating to an individual's personal life should also be avoided as Germans tend to keep their private life to themselves at the office.  Finally, while German's do like to discuss sports, avoid American sports such as baseball, basketball, and football.
Good Topics Of Conversation
Germans are quite responsive to topics such as sports, travel, beer, politics and current events. Some sports that German's enjoy discussing are soccer, cycling, skiing, tennis, and hiking.  As Germany produces multiple fine beers, Germans enjoy discussing and comparing different brews.

 

NONVERBAL

Kinesic Behavior
It is important to understand that different gestures mean various things in different countries.  For instance, in Germany a gesture called the "head screw" where the hand is put up to the side of the head and turned up or down means "you're crazy" and is sometimes used by drivers.  However, it is important to know that performing this hand gesture can actually get someone arrested in Germany.  Another gesture used by Germans are the head toss (in a backward motion) which indicates a beckoning call. However, the finger circle (the American okay sign) is considered vulger in Germany.
Proxemics
In Germany, space indicates power and Germans expect to be given more space with greater privacy, the higher they move up in the organization. 

 

STYLE OF COMMUNICATION

Confrontation
German business people are confrontational and will criticize opposing sides in a negotiation process.  However, they are quite sensitive to being criticized and may become embarassed. 
Feedback
German business people expect feedback based on objective facts.  Do not base any feedback on feelings as this will generate a negative response from a German business person. 
Attitudes
German society has pre-determined attitudes which lead to stereotyping, especially within their own country where stereotypes exist for people living in different parts of the country. 

 

Dr. Schroeder answered the question of whether or not stereotypes exist about German workers by stating the following:

"Many of the clichés and stereotypes regarding Germans actually are fairly accurate, and frequently are manifested in business situations."

"For example, Germans are said to be addicted to rules. A business starting and operating in Germany discovers that there are rules  - plenty of them – to be followed. Many American business  firms are inclined to want to “buck the rules”. These firms are better advised to just follow the rules, and the way will become smoother."

"An incident in point (told to me, not personally experienced): American customer  approaches service counter, operating on a first come/first serviced queue, with a “take-a-number” system. American takes next available number – No. 12. There is no one else in the queue. American expects to be served. German clerk, however, calls  “No. 8”. American, looking around and seeing no one else, is puzzled and waves ticket No. 12.  German clerk ignores gesture and proceeds to call, in order, Nos. 9 through 11. Finally, No.12 is called and served. American learns a new meaning of following the rules."

Dr. Schroeder answered the question of whether or not communication in German businesses was formal or informal by stating the following:

"Germans tend to be heavy on protocol  and  formality . Some U. S. firms want to encourage informality, such as a first-name basis among employees and management. This meets resistance among Germans, who are accustomed to use of  titles and surnames.  Correspondence/communications with my colleagues at Deutsches Haus are full of  salutations to  'Attorney Kuntz/Col. Shinn/ Doktor Schroeder/ Engineer Neumann'. It’s a culture thing."
 
 

Sources
Axtell, Roger E. Do's and Taboos Around the World. Third Edition.Parker Pen Company.1993. p46-47 and 60-61.
Deresky, Helen. International Management: Managing Across Borders.Third Edition.Prentice Hall.2000. p146.
Interview with Dr. Ronald Schroeder of the Loyola University Small Business Development Center
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