Communication In Germany
As every culture, the German business culture is shaped by its underlying ideas of what appropriate communication manners are, and how you would like your counterpart to perceive you. The underlying idea is that structured thinking and working, which is transparent and based on facts, is the best way to avoid mistakes and that in turn makes the workflow more efficient.
Demanding clarity and transparency bring about clear thoughts and words. The communication in Germany is rather to the point and different opinions are seen as an opportunity to get different perspectives or to move things forward. In business communication, the emphasis lies on the rational.
Communication style in Germany
A ›yes‹ means ›yes‹ and a ›no‹ means ›no‹. The communication style in Germany is perceived as direct and functional. This is because facts and emotions are often split up, resulting in two different levels of communication. At work, the fact-level dominates over the emotional level. A clear question deserves a clear answer. If you need support, it is assumed that you ask. Asking questions (based on facts) is generally seen as positive because you show interest. It is seen as being professional to talk directly, clearly and well structured.
Argue with facts and figures (and not with emotions). Be polite; use ›Danke‹ (Thank you) und ›Bitte‹ (Please). An example: ›Let’s have lunch sometime.‹ US translation: to support social interaction; US action: none. German translation: ›Let’s have lunch sometime.‹ (literally); German action: planning a concrete lunch appointment.
Small talk in general, is used very little. In Germany, it has a lower social function than in some other countries. Since German business people meet at first on an objective level, it is not a necessity. Small talk is more common after a meeting or at a business dinner. There is a saying: ›Erst die Arbeit, dann das Vergnügen.‹ Which means: ›Business before pleasure.‹ So first the meeting (Arbeit), then enjoy a cup of coffee together (Vergnügen).
Germans as with all cultures enjoy a very sophisticated sense of humour. In Germany, business-time usually does mean time for business and there is a general sense that, work is work and play is play. Business is considered a serious matter where there is little or no space for jokes or funny comments.
The complexity of humour is to be kept in mind since what is humorous in one culture can easily be insulting in another. It is also dependent on the personal relationship you have with your business partner if it is appropriate to be funny or to tell a joke. When in doubt, omit it.
Agreeing and declining
Due to the communication style in Germany a ›no‹ or an open disagreement is not seen as being impolite, but as being clear and transparent. Sometimes it could even be seen as impolite or unprofessional when there is a vague ›maybe‹ although a ›no‹ is meant. The ›no‹ usually relates to a fact (e.g. ›I do not have time for a meeting on Thursday at 10.00 am.‹) and not to the relationship or person. (e.g. ›I do not want to meet you.‹)
Giving feedback / criticising
You grow with criticism; at least that is what Germans believe. It is therefore not surprising that Germans often criticise others or are criticised by others in a very straightforward way. This is seen as being direct and frank. Germans very rarely use ›maybes‹, ›should‹ or ›could‹ or ›have you thought about this or that‹. Factual criticism is considered constructive and is intended to help pushing things forward. Making compliments is not expected. There is more space for negative feedback than for positive feedback as Germans believe only by correcting mistakes you can improve.
Conflicts should be addressed in a direct manner and as soon as possible. To resolve a conflict you will typically have discussions searching for consensus, with the focus lying on the task (not the person). It is okay to take up different positions, even if they contradict one another. This is also the case within a group/team.
Germans will try to find the cause of a conflict to hopefully avoid it in the future. They truly try to understand the causality (cause and effect). A person is perceived as sincere or genuine when they stick to the truth. Personal conflicts (will be solved on a personal level) are seen as something different than conflicts on a business level (how can we deal with the budget?). It is important to give reasons for your opinions. It is also very important not to skip hierarchies.