"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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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