In recent years, I have been observing a significant change in business relationships between Poland and Germany. Their unquestionable protagonists are thriving Polish companies that, after having reached the so-called glass ceiling in their country, expand into the German market, buying entire mother companies. This trend could undoubtedly be a prelude to the story of the great success, but in many cases, it is quite the opposite. According to my observation, Poles often mistakenly assume that the western neighbour’s business customs must be similar to theirs, and contacts with German partners don’t require any special preparation. Well, nothing could be further from the truth! In order to avoid this trap, it is worth to adapt the basic principles of German business, and hence deepen the knowledge about: the concept of time, principle of universality, making decisions, small talk or communication. It turns out that because of misunderstandings that arise at the communication level, many of the promising Polish-German collaborations are already struggling with plenty of problems.
Communication as a way to success
Who is responsible for the message? What is it and how it should be communicated? These are as few and yet as many as three questions that should be posed by Polish and German partners interacting with each other. It is quite common for German and Polish business people to receive and transmit data in a completely different way. While the typical Kowalski from Poland focuses on providing an outline of information, expecting the questions from the German partner during the conversation, Schmidt from Germany will try to convey the entire context of the speech, beginning from the past, through the present and finishing with the future. Questions are of course welcome, but usually at the end of the conversation. Therefore, prepare yourself for an extensive discourse about what was, what is and what is planned to be carried out. Apply this rule also in the opposite direction. In order to achieve the potentially best results of the conversation, make your speech as detailed as possible and specify all, even the least relevant aspects. Don’t worry that such an accurate presentation of the topic will take too much time. If you invest in working out such an attitude, you’ll be perceived as a reliable business partner.
The so-called small talk, at which – as you often hear – Germans do not master, looks totally different. The question that immediately comes to the mind is: what to talk about and which topics are safe? The most popular subjects during free conversation are definitely sport, including football, free time and weather. The Germans are connoisseurs of beer and wine, which is why deepening the knowledge on the sommelier art will certainly be appreciated. As it appears from my experience, while preparing for the meeting, it is useful, and even obligatory, to get acquainted with the information about the life in the region of Germany that is the subject of your interest. Because of the fact that the country was divided in the past, Germany is very culturally diverse, and the knowledge of a given area will be – in accordance with the prevailing belief that information is power – undoubtedly your next asset while establishing fruitful cooperation.
Time is more expensive than gold
Undoubtedly, in contact with a business partner from Germany, you will feel the influence of the Prussian tradition, according to which your German co-operator will show commitment to standards, regulations, contracts and guidelines. In this sense, Germans can be seen as the masters of planning – they like to know what and when they will do. A detailed plan covers both professional and private life, and any changes to it or to the decisions already taken may disrupt a sense of security, which is essential for Germans. So, make sure to carefully prepare the norms and rules of cooperation, to which both parties will agree, and then reliably pursue them in time. The latter is associated with efficiency, and this value occupies one of the leading places in German business culture. By paying attention to this issue, you will show respect for your partner and gain their trust.
A very important, if not the most important element, which has to be considered in German business is the concept of time and its perception. The dates of meetings are usually determined well in advance, but it is worth to remember that the German business partner will initially look for a suitable date, for instance in the 12th calendar week, and only later will propose a specific date. When going for a meeting, you should appear on time – too soon or delayed arrival will be perceived as a disrespect to your business partner’s time.
Unlike in particularistic cultures, in which everything depends on the circumstances, the business culture in Germany follows the principle of universality – rules and principles apply to everyone in the same way. In practice, this means that there is no place for favouring friends in German business, and only actual achievements are evaluated. Prepare yourself for immediate feedback – making everything clear and direct communication can sometimes prove to be a real challenge for the Polish business partner.
Quite a lot in common
Germany, like Poland, are a ‘male’ culture, dominated by such values as power, money and hard work. The motto of German culture is “I live to work.” So, let’s work together, bearing in mind the mutual cultural conditions – according to the German proverb “as you work today, so you will live tomorrow”.
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