June 14, 2017

5 things you need to know when communicating in Germany


In times of increasing uncertainty for businesses, global companies are gravitating towards a trend of investing into the German market – particularly from the UK and China. According to a recent study by accounting firm Ernst & Young (EY), 1 in 7 businesses in the UK plans to move at least parts of their operations to the mainland of Europe in the next few years, with Germany being the preferred target for 54% of those.

Alongside the Brexit-driven investments from the UK, there is also an increasing interest in the German market from Asia. More and more Chinese firms are acquiring German SMEs. The number of German companies acquired by Chinese businesses reached an all-time high in 2016, with 2017 predicted to surpass that.

Regardless of the why, it seems Germany will be one of the main targets for international investments in the coming years. Companies value the country for the economic power and stability of its market, the technological knowledge and advancements, and the immense innovation potential. To make the best use of the country’s assets, the right communications support is crucial – for small and medium sized companies, as well as for multinational enterprises. For foreign companies however, this can be a particularly challenging hurdle to overcome. We’ve collated our top tips for you to be aware of:

1) Speak deutsch

If you come to Germany for business meetings, there will often be no problems holding them in English. As English is taught in school from very early ages, many Germans are very comfortable in the language. However, for your regular communication in Germany, your stakeholders may expect you to speak German. This applies to press releases, your internal employee communication or your social media activities. Refusing to use the local language will be taken as a sign of a lack of commitment towards establishing your business in Germany.

2) German directness

Germans are very direct – they don’t take their time talking around a problem, but directly make their point – and they expect their counterparts to do the same. For business meetings, there will not be long periods of getting to know each other, they aim to focus on business first. In comparison to many Asian countries, where personal connections are the basis of working relationships, the rule of thumb in Germany is: first business, then personal. Similarly this directness can be found when giving feedback. Germans will not mince their words when it comes to criticism. If they don’t like your ideas, performances or behaviour, they will tell you and they expect the same from you.

3) No marketing language

German journalists hate marketing language. To get them on your side, always stay factual and objective. This applies more for broadsheets and public television, for example Handelsblatt, Spiegel and ARD. However, tabloid publications like BILD will also be sceptical towards the use of overused jargon.

4) Punctuality

In Germany, time is a point, not a span. Punctuality is valued highly and being late can be a dealbreaker. This applies equally to press conferences, business meetings or deadlines. Even being 10 minutes behind schedule might be interpreted as a sign of disrespect and or as  a lack of reliability. To reduce any damage to your reputation, always let the person you are meeting know that you will be late if you can’t prevent it.

5) Review your quotes

In Germany, every person has the “right of their spoken word”. In practical terms, this means you have the right to see any interview content to approve before distribution, an opportunity you should always take. You will also be allowed to make minor changes to the quotes. But be aware: don’t try to change the entire quote – it will affect your reputation with the journalist.

There are many more avoidable mistakes and useful tips for your communication. To make all your team responsible for communicating in Germany aware of the communications landscape, look out for our Country coaching offer here.