For Profits, 10 German Business Etiquette Tips Apply in the U.S.

Hats were once considered the business norm. Formality required that men remove their hats when entering a building or when they were introduced to a lady.

Baby boomers can recall it was a cultural, social-changing event – and quite a shock in 1961 – when President John F. Kennedy appeared hatless at his frigid outdoor inauguration.

Legend has it that President Kennedy reversed the hat-wearing trend of men from professionals to entertainers like Frank Sinatra.

Some years later, business etiquette began to worsen.

Poor business etiquette started during the Viet Nam War. The nation was in turmoil. Everything was questioned. Formality was out among young adults – me included.

For example, when I was fresh out of college I held two jobs. I worked weekends as an on-air broadcaster and full-time as an insurance sales representative giving speeches about insurance to groups of educators and other professionals.

I dressed casually for my radio gig, but the insurance job required business dress.

Once, in an insurance-company sales meeting, our manager asked us: “Would it be a violation of your civil rights, if I asked you to get a haircut?”

His humorous approach had me laughing so hard, I nearly fell off my chair. But I got his serious point.

He didn’t feel that hair covering our ears was conducive to earning the trust of policyholders. Laughing at his diplomacy and humor, we seriously headed to the barber shop as I learned my lesson. (A formal style proved to be a beneficial tactic to help me advance in my news-broadcasting career, too, before becoming a business-performance consultant.)

In the early 1990s, came the casual-Friday phenomenon. Business suits and ties were discouraged on the last day of the workweek.  It progressed to business casual every day, especially in the digital age after the dot-com bust.

Now, after making a purchase instead of hearing “Please” or “Thank you,” we usually hear “Have a nice day.” Yuk. To which I’m often tended to respond: “Thanks, but I made other plans.”

Isn’t it preferable to use etiquette and have panache?

Certainly, that’s true if you’re an ambitious professional and want to accelerate your career to the C-suite in most U.S. markets. If your career is stalled, you should use the proven ways to turbo charge your personal brand.

Importance of suiting up

To use a sports metaphor, it’s important to “suit up.” It shows you’re ready to conduct business. If you’re in a traditional work environment, it’s important to dress for success.

If you’re climbing your career ladder, always dress now for the role you want to attain in five years. In this way, your potential bosses can look into the future and visualize you in a more challenging position.

True, I’ve had clients who questioned my attire because they personally preferred to dress casually. However, they soon accepted my approach after they enjoyed strong results and saw how serious I was about their business welfare.

They realized I treated my meetings with them as important events and that I performed best when wearing my uniform.

“The visual image is a kind of tripwire for the emotions.”

-Diane Ackerman

In segueing to current economic developments, and noting the discipline of German businesspeople, their country’s success is intriguing.

Another possibility: If the European Union ever disbands, it would mark the end of the euro. Because it’s a leading economy, some people joke that the German mark could replace the dollar. But it’s possible.

Germany’s success starts with its collective business demeanor.

A March 2013 advice column by Josie Le Blond on a German Web site, The Local – Germany’s News in English,” caught my eye. The headline read, “Ten tips for German business etiquette.”

In her opening line, she asked: “What are the hidden rules of etiquette foreigners need to watch out for while doing business in Germany?”

As a result of casual thinking to many people in the U.S., business etiquette tips for Germany aren’t applicable. If being casual works for you, fine. But if you’re not satisfied in your career, it’s time to practice the Principle of Contrary Action – doing everything differently – so you can learn to keep an open mind.

Disciplined etiquette

“Order, structure, precision and thoroughness permeate work life here, which is why foreigners in business environments could be forgiven for suspecting their German colleagues have a secret set of rules – and are following them to the letter,” she advised.

Again, her tips will work for you in the U.S.

Her recommendations:

  1. Be on time
  2. Use titles and surnames (be formal)
  3. If in doubt shake hands
  4. Dress like an MP (I assume she means a Member of Parliament)
  5. Business, not personal (be civil, not too cozy)
  6. Knock first (respect privacy)
  7. Keep your distance (don’t take the person for granted)
  8. Say what you mean (be direct and be ready to discuss important details)
  9. Plan ahead (no surprises)
  10. Guten Appetit (use proper etiquette at business meals)

If you want to be taken seriously, professionalism and disciplined etiquette will differentiate you from others. You’ll profit from these tips.

From the Coach’s Corner: editor’s picks:

How Women Can Enhance Their Careers via Group Decision-Making — In group decision-making, women often participate 75 percent less than their proportional representation when they’re outnumbered in gender, according to a study. It found that “having a seat at the table is very different than having a voice.”

Tips for Dining Etiquette with Your Boss or Anchor Client — Whatever the important business occasion, it’s helpful to hold your meeting away from the tense hustle and bustle of a corporate setting. The right ambience for deal making is often an opulent restaurant with sumptuous food. That’s been my preference.

Career Strategies: How to Get a C-Level Job — If you’re climbing the corporate ladder and have designs on a C-level job, a noted Stanford University professor has some excellent advice.

A Book That Will Improve Your Life, Business and Community — Lovers of knowledge and wisdom periodically get an opportunity to read a book that delivers particularly valuable insights. Such a well-written book is “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business,” by Charles Duhigg.

18 Leadership Strategies for Employee Respect— Eighteen strategies to profit from good labor relations, and to leverage the perspective of employees – your company’s human capital.

“The visual image is a kind of tripwire for the emotions.”

-Diane Ackerman


Author Terry Corbell has written innumerable online business-enhancement articles, and is a business-performance consultant and profit professional. Click here to see his management services. For a complimentary chat about your business situation or to schedule him as a speaker, consultant or author, please contact Terry.

15 Quick Tips for Profitability in the New Economy

First, it’s important to accept the facts. The new economy – challenging times – is here to stay.

A business should perform like a championship sports team. That means protecting your turf while aggressively pursuing new opportunities, and making full use of technology.

ID-100244642For new or existing businesses, here’s a checklist of strategies:

1. Evaluate your strengths and weaknesses, opportunities and threats — including yours, key employees and the mission of your business.

Consider a SWOT analysis at every level. You need to understand your talents, and your special niche. 

2. Study your marketplace. Your customers want to anticipate how your products and services will work for them. 

3. Develop a new marketing approach to differentiate your business from your competitors.

Design a unique message with a minimum of five value propositions, a branding slogan and logo that demonstrates value.

Use the right verbiage. Increasingly, customers favorably respond to words that connote security, convenience, good, new, proven, results, community involvement and green or environmentally safe. 

4. Write a vision plan, strategic action plan or a business plan, which is even better. Determine clear, pragmatic goals and how you will achieve them for the short and long term. 

5. Get the right advice. At the least, get a mentor who is successful and understands your business. Additionally, a network of business advisors will work. 

6. Monitor your expense and eliminate unnecessary costs. 

7. Leverage the insights of financial, legal and insurance professional, whom you can trust. 

8. Determine where your most profitable customers are. Get to know and understand their concerns and needs. Provide exemplary service. 

9. Recruit and hire the best talent. Look for attitude, education and soft skills. Pay them well. Be mindful of their lifestyles and family concerns. 

10. Continually look for multiple revenue streams and new product lines that make sense for your business. 

11. Don’t become a low-price leader. Be careful in using loss-leader pricing, and remember coupons only attract price-conscious customers. They will not be loyal and become repeat customers. 

12. Be pro-active, which means doing the footwork, and making old-fashioned cold calls. 

13. Nurture your relationships by sending greeting cards, thank you notes, special offer notifications, and an occasional visit or phone call to just chat and not sell. 

14. Make certain your small business voice is heard – vote, and make your business concerns known to lawmakers. 

15. Develop a succession plan and exit strategy, especially if you’re approaching retirement. 

From the Coach’s Corner, here are more resource links:

10 Scholarly Solutions for Selling More Products –Small business owners face more predators than ever, which makes decision-making about growth seem very challenging. In order to minimize the likelihood of entrepreneurial migraine headaches during bad-hair days, a business owner needs to perform like a masterful clairvoyant when decision-making about growth.

Marketing Essentials on a Shoestring Budget — Why do businesses sometimes falter? Let’s get the perspective of a retired longtime business professor and business counselor who is actively pursued for his opinions. “One reason is they fail to understand their special niche or their market,” said Neil Delisanti, who enjoyed a unique, long career as a business professor at the University of Puget Sound and The Evergreen State College. He also ran the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) in Tacoma, WA, where he advised more than 2,000 firms.

Management and HR for higher performance — In analyzing the growth rates of small businesses – every great entrepreneur has one salient quality – the ability to be an effective manager. An effective manager efficiently allocates resources for achieving goals. Quality management usually results from an independent SWOT analysis – assessing internal strengths and weaknesses along with evaluating external opportunities and threats.

You Can Creatively Manage Your Cash Flow 7 Ways — If you’re taking the pulse of your business, of course, the first thing to consider is your cash flow. If your cash flow is poor, you feel poor because you can’t pay the bills nor can you use money for what you’d like to do. Your image can also suffer with vendors or with customers, if you don’t manage your cash flow.

Cutting Costs — 9 Best Practices to Avoid Making Reactionary Decisions — In chaotic times, it’s common for businesspeople to be fearful and reactionary when they feel they must cut expenses. But entrepreneurs need to be unemotional so that they make decisions that will bolster their objectives. They can take the emotion out of their decision-making — by eliminating stress factors — if their priorities are clearly defined with values. This is facilitated by documenting goals and priorities.

“If your goal is anything but profitability – if it’s to be big, or to grow fast, or to become a technology leader – you’ll hit problems.

 -Michael Porter


Author Terry Corbell has written innumerable online business-enhancement articles, and is a business-performance consultant and profit professional. Click here to see his management services. For a complimentary chat about your business situation or to schedule him as a speaker, consultant or author, please contact Terry.

Image courtesy of stockimages

Seattle business consultant Terry Corbell provides high-performance management services and strategies.