“I find myself constantly asking our German colleagues the when-question regarding the completion of a project. Their response is frequently vague. How can we get the response to be better for us, even if only it is an approximate answer?”
Germans do not like to be nailed down – festgenagelt – on anything. Who does, actually?
Why? Not because they are non-committal, but because they feel nearly 100% bound to their commitments. Because they know that there are factors not in their control. And because the Germans hate any kind of pushiness. And what for Americans is not pushy is often for Germans push to very pushy.
So what to do with German colleagues who are reluctant to give a completion date, even if it is only an approximate answer?
First, give them as specific information as you can about why it is important for you to at least get an estimate of a date. These should be business and technical reasons. Spell out for them the timing of the project from our perspective, about the ramifications if certain work is completed by certain dates. You can almost never give a German colleague enough context information.
Second, provide them with a few scenarios. “Well, if you can get me that data by the 15th of the month, that will allow me to do this or that.” or “I don’t want to be pushy, Klaus, but if I have your work results by the end of next week, that would be good, because it allows me to then present to the customer during the week thereafter, and the advantages there would be XYZ.”
Third, ask for a time-frame, a window, in which your German colleague can reach completion. And while you do that ask them what factors are affecting the project on their side of the Atlantic. Do your best to put yourself in their shoes. Literally ask them: “Anna, what are your parameters, your boundary conditions? Give me a chance to work within them. We can get this done if know each other’s situation. Thanks!”