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Business Etiquette Germany – What to look out for

Keep your distance

If you don’t know your counterpart well, you should definitely be sure to keep your distance. Particularly in a business context, many feel uncomfortable when you get too close or touch your business partner during your conversation. In Central Europe, a comfortable distance is in the range of 1.2 to 3.6 m, so you shouldn’t stand any closer than 1.2 m.

Save criticism for private conversations

You have a different opinion than your colleague or business partner during the meeting? Then say it openly and honestly. However, as soon as you want to talk about principles or past decisions, postpone until you can talk in private. Putting your business partner in a bad light in front of everyone else looks incompetent and unprofessional.

Order of greetings

Even if it seems a bit old-fashioned, the order in which you greet people can make or break a first impression. People start by greeting the ones they already know, then all the others. Make sure you always greet the person of the highest rank first. Otherwise, follow these rules:

• Greet older people before younger people (the younger person should take the initiative)

• Greet women before men

Greetings usually occur with a handshake with the right hand, which should be brief and firm. Generally speaking: If you are greeted, greet back. It is considered very impolite not to greet someone.

Don’t just toss business cards into your bag

Even in times of the chaos surrounding data protection laws, you can’t ignore business cards. When you receive a business card, you should not just toss it mindlessly into your bag, but take a close look at it first. Ideally, you can hand over your own business card in return. Place the business card in a card case so that your counterpart can see that you value his card.

Punctuality means being there a few minutes early

Punctuality is very important in Germany. You should definitely be on time for appointments and meetings. Being punctual actually means that you are there a few minutes before it starts. Arriving three to five minutes early is recommended.

Usher your guests

If you invite someone, don’t let him wander through your company alone. Instead, meet him at the door and guide him to where the meeting or appointment is taking place. At the end of the meeting, you should accompany your guest to the door and say goodbye there. It is also important to introduce your guests: Take over the job of introducing them to your colleagues or superiors to make getting acquainted easier for your guests.

Don’t be too hasty with first names

In Germany, you might hang on to formal address for a relatively long time. Offering first names (the informal “you”) always comes from the higher rank or elder. If you aren’t in this position, you have stick to last names and the formal “you” until your counterpart offers a first-name basis.

Use your counterpart’s academic title

Should your business partner have a professorial or doctoral title, you should address him or her with it.

Smartphones have no place in a meeting

You should take phone calls only in very urgent cases and in general leave your phone in your pocket for the duration of the meeting. Placing your smartphone on the table and therefore having an eye on it at all times is considered rude. Show your counterpart that you are concentrating completely on the meeting and not on your smartphone.

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