“Is it accurate – and helpful – to refer to the American? What do a New Yorker, a recent Mexican immigrant in Texas, and a Californian have in common?“
Broad and deep consensus
This is an extraordinarily important question. Why?
If the answer is: “John, you cannot generalize about people. There is no such thing as the American or the German”, then CI, my work, your reflecting on intercultural differences has little to no value.
This foundational question is posed to me time and again. Since I intend to address it soon in a more systematic way, I’ll just give you some food for thought, in the form of questions and statements.
If a large, complex society functions well (see Germany, USA), then there must be a broad and deep consensus among its people about how it does some very fundamental things. See the ten topics CI currently addresses. There are more. What is meant is not a lowest common denominator in those things, but a deeply rooted belief about those things.
Although America is an immigrant nation, with newcomers arriving constantly and from different cultures, can you name which newcomer-cultures were immediately embraced by the dominant culture(s) within America?
Asked differently: If you are an American, when was the last time you – in the workplace – went up to a colleague who is a recent immigrant (or at least first generation American) and asked them about their culture, with the expressed intent to allow your own thinking (culture) to be influenced by that colleague’s culture?
American history makes clear that the dominant cultures within the U.S. invariably demand of immigrants that they assimilate.
Your success in other American companies
If you are capable at what you do, you are able to transfer immediately to another company within the U.S. and to perform the same or similar work at the same level – or higher – of proficiency. Why?
Because of your capabilites, yes. But primarily because you are an American and would be moving to another American company. Would this be the case if you were to move to a company in the same business sector, doing the same work, but in another business culture?
Let me finish by addressing one difference between Germans and Americans. The topic is Persuasion. The German logic is: “Arguments should speak for themself.” The American logic is: “Sell yourself first, then your product or service.”
People in boxes
If those two statements are true – the one for Germans, the other for Americans – would there be any significant variation – in the context of German-American collaboration – if the German giving a presentation were man or woman; young or old; Catholic, Protestant or non-believer; from Northern or Southern Germany; extrovert or introvert; trained in the sciences, engineering, law, economics or humanities; from a large or a small family; working in the automobile industry or chemicals or software or financial services; in a position high, mid or low in the organization?
Or flip it around. If the statement is fundamentally true about how American persuade, and an American were attempting to persuade a German audience, would it make any significant difference whether that American were male or female; young or old; etc.?
I believe not.
You see, we can “put people in boxes.” We can generalize. In fact, we do it all the time. We look for patterns in order to deal with complexity.
There are such things as national cultures. There are peoples. And peoples have charactistics. They have ways of thinking and acting. Our job is to understand those ways, discuss them, and find out how to best combine them. That is what our work is all about.