Germans are often characterized as being punctual, highly organised and formal. These traits are also visible in the ways in which meetings are held. Being successful in one’s line of work is important, and business is therefore taken very seriously. A strict division between private and business life is made, and unless colleagues and business contacts know each other very well, interaction is rather impersonal and formal (Mole, 2003; Harris, Moran & Moran, 2004). This formality is also reflected in attire: men generally wear dark suits, and women wear comparable formal clothing such as women’s suits or dresses (Nieuwenhuizen, 2007).
Punctuality is key for the success of meetings. They are planned weeks ahead, and this scheduling is strictly adhered to. Rather than informal get-togethers, meetings are formal events. An agenda is followed and minutes are taken. Meetings are held with a goal in mind and are purely for business. Therefore, small talk is only done at the beginning of a meeting, while coffee and cookies are being served.
Upon entering a meeting space, the person who holds the highest rank or the eldest present enters first, followed by those lower in rank. When in a similar position, men enter before women (culturescope.nl). Interactions follow protocol: upon arrival and departure, people shake hands. Women are supposed to extend their hand first, and, in general, firm handshakes are preferred. Upon entering a room full of people, one should make a round around the room and shake hands with all of those present (Harris, Moran & Moran, 2004). Handshakes are accompanied by a small nod of the head. It is deemed inappropriate to wave or attract attention by speaking loudly. Business partners are addressed with Herr or Frau followed by their last name. It is highly important to add the right title, such as Herr Doktor or Frau Professorin, if applicable. One should also introduce oneself by providing one’s own title plus last name (Nieuwenhuizen, 2007). Only when invited to do so, should the informal pronoun Du be used instead of the formal Sie.
Germans are accustomed to relatively large personal space. Therefore, it may be deemed inappropriate to, for example, move one’s chair too close to that of another person attending the meeting (Culturescope.nl).
People often feel that the way they talk or make a point is something natural, an ability we are all born with. However, the ways in which we communicate and reason are for a large part determined by our culture, schooling and upbringing (Nees, 2000). Besides this cultural aspect, there are of course also differences between individuals, which can sometimes overshadow the cultural differences. In his book, Brooks Peterson (2004) has described three reasoning styles, one of which is predominant in most cultures
Being a (Northern) European country, Germans most often use Peterson’s second style of reasoning. A conclusion is only arrived at after all possible information is gathered. Since expertise is valued highly, all possible experts are consulted before a decision is taken or a conclusion arrived at (Mole, 2004).This fits in well with Peterson’s theory. Although it is possible to attack a certain argument or fact during a meeting, this is done in a distant manner, never attacking the person who is making the argument. By maintaining a formal atmosphere and social distance in meetings, conflict is avoided (Nees, 2000).
The strict hierarchy, which exists in German organisations also impacts the way communication flows. Information is shared from the top down and only when necessary. Meetings between people of different rank are meant more to inform the subordinates of decisions that have already been made than to arrive at a decision through discussion and consensus. People are expected to carry out orders, even when they do not agree with them.
Meetings are accompanied by paperwork in the form of an agenda and minutes, and written forms of communication are deemed more important than verbal communication (Mole, 2004).