In the series of posts below, we are highlighting some of the cultural knowledge you need to succeed in the social and business environments in various countries around the world. Check back for updates as we add to this post with more countries and culture.
These are adapted from Barry Tomalin and Mike Nick’s World Business Cultures: A Handbook.
Cross Cultural Training – Achieving Business Success in… GERMANY
In the first and second instalments (below) we covered some aspects on how to achieve business success in Japan, and Brazil. In this third instalment, we go to Europe and discuss the kinds of cultural practices in Germany that may be useful…
Germany has the fourth largest economy in the world and is a leading powerhouse in Europe. However, the taxes are pretty high and the population is reluctant to sacrifice their privileges.
Therefore, Germany does continue to invest eastwards. Employment is beginning to diminish in the east from its manufacturing sector and their government appears to be struggling to address these challenges.
Expectations from German culture
The Germans are very efficient: they seek order (ordnung) and clarity (klarheit) to achieve a fully functional system.
They look for a strong work ethic, reliability and pure honesty from employees and partners.
Formality, punctuality and deference to higher authority are characteristics that should be followed when working with Germans. At the end of the day, this attitude does mean that they tend to surpass other cultures with their attention to detail and the meeting of deadlines when it comes to planning projects.
Germans believe that their behaviours should contrast from the work life to their home life. The friendliness and cosiness (Gemütlichkeit) is significantly different when it comes to their business world. Easy conversations (Unterhaltung) or small talk is usually reserved for domestic situations and is not necessary in a work environment.
A common mantra goes, “Dienst ist Dienst, und Schnaps ist Schnaps” – which translates to “work is work and play is play” (of course the Germans use the word for booze to refer to play!). This is much like the English phrase, “You shouldn’t mix business with pleasure.”
Germans put great value on truth and duty. Speaking German imprecisely can lead to the implication that you lack honour. The same goes for saying what you mean, and meaning what you say – Germans generally do not appreciate the polite niceties if they are insincere.
To foreigners, this could appear arrogant, especially if raised somewhere like the UK where politeness is inherent. However, the apparent arrogance is usually unintentional. Equally, Germans will often consider Brits indirect and therefore to lack conviction and commitment, and this assumption is similarly often inaccurate.
There is a strong sense of social responsibility and citizenship in German culture – from their attitudes to organisation structures, to recycling their rubbish, to washing their cars.
They are tolerant towards foreigners and are willing to remind them what the social responsibilities are – often in a much more direct manner than British people may be used to. This can often lead to cultural misunderstanding where a foreigner may feel their personal life being intruded upon, whereas the Germans see it as a simple reminder to be respectful where you may have forgotten. It is culturally embedded to do things thoroughly (Gründlichkeit) so they make every effort to do so.
Germans are also very time-conscious, which is a trait they share with the Brits.
In terms of humour, you will rarely find a German who jokes lightly and often. Work can often be quite serious, vigilant, and rigorous environments. However, do not make the mistake of thinking Germans are all dry as a bone – Germans change when they are off-duty. After all, Dienst ist Dienst, und Schnaps ist Schnaps!
Communication in the German Culture
Germans tend to be very forthcoming and direct. Some find this a positive thing while others will view this as impolite. It is important to know that this is actually just an inherent part of the German style of speech and writing and does not carry implications of attitude.
You may also find that Germans are highly intelligent when it comes to sparking up conversations. They show great interest in new ideas, and in the world surrounding them.
In regards to presenting, they will expect to hear the specific technical details of your idea. They differ from Brazil, in terms of how they do not respond as well to emotive presentations and will rarely present with emotion front and forward. They are more likely to consider logical points over emotional proposals. The content of what you are saying is typically more important than your presenting style and body language.
Germans will grill you. They will ask very detailed questions and expect detailed answers. It is recommended that you avoid using humour in your presentations, as they are looking for solid facts and will see jokes as a distraction.
In terms of following up, you may find that Germans consider it a waste of time to be extremely attentive to follow up communication. So don’t always expect a reply back unless you’ve specifically asked for it.
When collaborating in meetings, it is important to remember that they are used to planning carefully and setting further actions they actually implement. The pace of the meeting may be slow, but you should view this as their administrative nature and being gründlichkeit with their tasks. Remember to be punctual, formally dressed and be serious in your approach.
When bargaining with them, remember to set a realistic ‘first price’ – so that it is easier to start from a common ground. This works better with Germans than starting from a price that is too obviously an extreme from where you will end up. German negotiators are very careful when preparing. You can expect them to take time to discuss with their colleagues before settling on an agreement and will rarely make impulse decisions.
You can start to see how only studying a German language course doesn’t mean you necessarily become great at conversing with Germans if you were raised in a different culture. Good cultural training teaches you how Germans abrupt manner in working environments should not be interpreted as rude, and that you should spend time with them in social and networking settings to experience their fun and casual side.
Great ice-breakers when conversing with Germans could include having an interest in German and European affairs, travelling, latest exhibitions and movies, as well as sport (especially football) – e.g. the World Cup.
Work Environments in German Culture
As mentioned, there is a strong focus in Germany on efficiency and a thorough work ethic with little humour or unnecessary politeness.
Offices tend to be quite quiet. Cleanliness and organisation are very appreciated.
Working hours are usually 8:00am till 5:00pm-5:30pm. In terms of lunch, they are given 30 minutes or an hour.
When leaving for the day, you should know that they are typically very prompt when leaving the office. The company’s servers or switchboards may be closed before you finish work.
If you would like to impress or be selected by a German company or German team, display competence in performing the tasks required and always meet deadlines – if a German gives you a deadline, take that as fixed and hard without much wiggle room.
Standards of Etiquette in German Culture
As there is a formality to be adhered to, Germans usually refer to you by last name in business meetings, and conversations.
It is important to shake hands at the beginning and ending of a meeting.
Giving gifts is a very personal act and will be taken very personally. Good gifts to give to Germans include unwrapped flowers, chocolates, or any presents from your country or region. Avoid lilies and chrysanthemums (which are associated with funerals), intimate gifts (e.g. perfume, jewellery) and wine (most especially if it is of a low quality).
In regards to hospitality, lunch is the main meal of the day and will be a good time for important meetings. Germans typically spend their evenings with friends and family, and if you are invited to an affair in the evening it is not a good idea to give gifts on your first visit.
German Cross Cultural Training Cheat Sheet
A quick summary of the most important things to remember if you are going to Germany, and dealing with German clients:
- Focus on your efficiency, competence, organisation and punctuality at work.
- Be straightforward and direct and expect them to be direct.
- Do not make promises you can’t keep and always mean what you say. Do not be insincere in the name of being polite.
- If you are given rules or deadlines, follow them exactly.
- Any action you take should be done after sufficient consultation with careful deliberation and planning.
Are you working with German teams? Picking up the nuances of German behaviour could be the difference between a negative workspace and a mutually beneficial one. Enquire about our cultural training courses or our German language courses to see if we could help.
Cross Cultural Training – Achieving Business Success in… BRAZIL
Last time (below) we talked about how to achieve business success in Japan. In this update, we are now focusing on Brazil.
Brazil has the largest economy in South America, and it is also known to have the most advanced industrial sector in Latin America. It is also the world’s fifth biggest country in regards to land area and population. In the seventh largest city in the world, Sao Paulo – it has over 20 million people residing there. That sounds staggering, right?
However, all that statistical information is not always positive. Around 5% of the population own around 85% of the wealth, and its economic rates have been weak in comparison to many Asian countries. Brazil also has a variety of issues such as poor infrastructure, inadequate public services, and corruption. On a positive note, Brazil does have strong manufacturing sectors.
Bear in mind that Portuguese is the official language, and it is easy for people of other cultures to misunderstand and assume that there is a “Brazilian” language. We do use the association when we’re calling people, food or objects ‘Brazilian’ – but do remember that there is no such thing as “speaking in Brazilian.”
Meanwhile, Brazil is actually one of the minority Latin American countries where there is no Spanish language.
Expectations from Brazilian Culture
In terms of the business side of things, their primal expectations are that Brazilians embrace their identity.
When it comes to business networking, as with Japan as noted in the previous article, your business cards should be bilingually set out. However, be sure here that it is never in Spanish!
Even though the country is enormous, expect Brazilians to use it to their advantage – with big ideas and big plans.
It is also a fairly young country: ideas tend to envelop enthusiasm and open-mindedness. They themselves have a flexible approach with coming up with ideas.
Brazilians show great levels of respect to social class, family and education – instead of just personal achievements. They will value your committed attitude, while simultaneously appreciating personal style. When it comes to personal interests, it is pretty important to use it for intellectual purposes as well. For example, being knowledgeable in regards to Brazil’s history, architecture and writers would earn you a lot of goodwill. TV soap operas, or ‘tele-novelas’ are also extremely popular topics for discussion. So keep conversations going in those areas and you will be looking well-informed and loyal.
They are also very emotive people, especially when memories are resurfaced – either good or bad. Their society has a groundwork consisting purely of relationships, where initially it is formal. They exhibit a carefree attitude towards time and show extreme gratitude for family. Although there is a small level of social security, people are very self-reliant.
Communication in Brazilian Culture
When it comes to Europeans and Americans, Brazilian people are very social and act very comfortable. So it is essential to make friends, where they can also give you further information and support on what you need.
They are interested in new ideas, so it is important to have an affirmative appearance, especially with body language – eye contact is essential.
Appointments are also very valued, so it would be a burden to just drop in for a meeting without a specific time previously requested.
With negotiating, be prepared as they are talkative and analytical.
When studying a Portuguese language course, you will especially want to make use of your new language skills in networking. Within a social and networking environment, it is important to remember that having good knowledge of Brazil’s history and architecture will make you go far.
Work Environments in Brazilian Culture
During business hours, the best time for a meeting is from 10am to 3pm. Brazilians are extremely hardworking, but there can be moments where they will be tardy for the meeting, so be prepared for that. As mentioned earlier on how flexible they are, they use the same approach with deadlines!
With leadership, managers are especially expected to show personal interest in their employees, so be prepared for quite personal discussions with colleagues.
Standards of Etiquette in Brazilian Culture
When referring to yourself, make sure you are aware of how there is a certain level of unfairness within the population so do not position yourself above the other person if you can help it.
In terms of appearance, it is important that you dress well as this goes back to Brazilians being analytical – they are also quite fashion conscious. Personal hygiene is considered to be really important as well.
It is not really necessary to give gifts. If you choose to do so, a good bottle of champagne or treats for the children wouldn’t go amiss. Make sure to avoid giving gifts that are black or purple as those colours are associated with funerals, and avoid giving knives and handkerchiefs. The former symbolises a relationship deteriorating, whereas the latter symbolises grief.
In regards to hospitality, lunch is generally for two hours, between 12pm-2pm. Dinner is usually at 7pm, but the dinner parties may not begin until 10pm.
When it comes to the business crowd, ensure that you are with your business partners when dining out at a restaurant.
Brazilian Cross Cultural Training Cheat Sheet
As a quick run-down of the most important things to remember if you are going to Brazil, or dealing with clients from there:
- Invest in spending time building the relationship, even if you may find the person/situation unnecessary.
- It’s important to dress appealingly, and being clean and hygienic is essential.
- Show your interest in their culture, through history, literature, art, music etc.
- And do not criticise them as people or as a nation.
Moving or transferring to Brazil? Need to make sure you don’t misstep? Try out one of our cultural training courses.
Cross Cultural Training – Achieving Business Success in… JAPAN
One of the first things you need to understand is that Japanese society has largely developed under the influence of two factors: population density and isolation. For two centuries – from 1648 to 1853 – Japan was segregated from Western and other Asian trends.
Over time, that isolation formed a society where social ritual, an exceptional degree of politeness, and a strong sense of compassion were deeply entrenched. Once Japan began to evolve and modernise, it incorporated a resilient work ethic, which helped the country to develop rapid progression – from 1955 to 1989.
Expectations from Japanese Culture
The Japanese can be particularly sensitive with regards to what other people think of them. They attribute tremendous value towards a good image and reputation. In order to maintain this, they are enthusiastically polite and will typically shower you in compliments.
On the other hand, if you are not showing respect and kindness in the early stages of the relationship – they may exhibit an exaggerated gesture, which conveys aggression and hostility. Remember to spend time building the relationship otherwise, you may struggle to get along.
There are also a number of other social principles they hold in high esteem:
- The ability to stay calm
- Keeping things in moderation
- Loyalty towards a social group rather than individual need.
- Respecting age and experience (Senpai-kohai)
- Striving for significant endurance and patience (Gaman)
You may often feel that Japanese people project a sense of discretion and fear. This often stems from the breakdown of the isolation they have experienced for so long, making it feel uneasy that the West has become aware of their culture.
Communication in Japanese Culture
Most communication in Japan is extremely subtle. They are completely aware of this and they deem it acceptable. If someone from the West had raised an idea, their disagreement comes in the form of silence and reluctance. You may get a response such as, “We’ll have a look at it.” This, in fact, is more like a “No.”
The Japanese are also very attentive to the protocol involved in presenting yourself to them. While they may appear uninterested, they usually are not. Concrete facts rule this social etiquette, rather than emotional notions – so it is important to learn the right behaviours.
While studying a Japanese language course will undoubtedly be useful, if you want to succeed in a Japanese business context, you should learn the appropriate way to deliver your communication. When in negotiations, you may experience unemotional responses. However, in social and networking contexts, Japanese people are more likely to ask more personal questions as a way to determine that you are trustworthy. This is the sort of thing we teach those who participate in our cross-cultural training courses.
Work Environments in Japanese Culture
The Japanese will regard hard work and long hours with gratitude and respect. It is generally disrespectful to leave before the boss leaves the office.
Punctuality is also crucial and is used as an obvious sign of being organised and respecting the others who are waiting.
When working in groups, collective objectives will override any individual’s beliefs or concerns.
Standards of Etiquette in Japanese Culture
Contrary to popular media and stereotype, constant bowing is unnecessary in Japan. When networking with important figures from a company, however, it is essential to have your business card set out bilingually – in both Japanese and your own language.
When giving gifts, always keep in mind that they should be carefully wrapped and that the brand name is visible. If you need to buy a gift, consider good quality branded goods (i.e. beverages, sports items). You want to avoid giving an even number of items (for example, 6 teacups) and also white chrysanthemums as these flowers are used for a funeral service.
Karaoke nights are essential for team building and ice-breaking exercises, so go ahead and belt your heart out. Bear in mind that alcohol should be kept in moderation, however, as they do not expect Westerners to be rowdy.
Japanese Cross Cultural Training Cheat Sheet
As a quick run down of the most important things to remember if you are going to Japan or dealing with Japanese clients:
- Spend unconditional time on building the relationship.
- Be a good team player and put the needs of the group ahead of your own.
- Excel by working very hard and earn trust.
- Show compassion and loyalty to the boss and organisation.
- Show passion for socialising to get to know people personally (i.e. karaoke)
Do you need more in-depth training in Japanese cultural practices? Check out our cultural training courses to see if we may be able to help you.