The issue of negotiations is probably a good place to look at the nature of business meetings in Germany. The rules here are simple: Germans like to “get down to business” rather quickly and dispense with any special rituals. Small talk, for instance, is kept to a minimum in German business meetings. The style here is to get down to brass tacks quickly. Germans also do not like digressions in their business discussions. Demonstrations, including video and other media, are very popular, however, and you may be treated to some of these multi-media presentations which show a company’s products or abilities.
Meetings here are certainly not slate-gray, stuffy affairs. Though German business meetings tend to be a little on the formal side, cordiality and humor are appreciated and employed. For instance, a range of soft drinks, mineral water, and juices will invariably be placed on a table at the start of a meeting, and coffee and tea will also probably be served.
Moreover, laughter and smiling are considered quite fitting here, in roughly the same situations they are considered so in North America or Britain. Germans like to laugh, and they can laugh loudly when they find something very funny. But a North American sense of familiarity or comedy-club banter during a business discussion is not encouraged.
Small talk itself does play an important role in Germany, even in a business context. But in the business world, it is largely confined to lunch and dinner. Common topics are families, vacations, places they have visited, maybe the arts. Many top German business-people are well-informed with a broad range of interests and knowledge, and they can call on this store of topics for their small talk.
Be aware that appointments are made for most situations and should generally be made with a fair amount of lead time, say one or two weeks to be safe. Appointments at short notice are the exception, and calling up a day or two before you need a meeting is a real dice shoot – with the dice heavily loaded against you.
However, it is not at all necessary to have a local contact or intermediary to schedule meetings and conduct business, as in some cultures. Germans are pretty open and above-board about most of these matters. Again, it is the task and the outcome that are important, not who you know.
Business meetings, written proposals and tasks-orientation – these are all part of the focus-on-facts mentality that is so prevalent here. Objective facts are considered essential in decision-making and problem-solving in Germany. In business negotiations, this means that successful decision-making is based more on rationality, logic and analysis of information than on intuition and personal connections. If you make a proposal in a meeting, you had better be ready to back it up with solid facts and examples.