Crushed by Negative Speeches

Frankfurt. May 2015. Employees at Deutsche Bank’s headquarters week became the latest powerful stakeholder to call for its chief executives to resign. The workers council’s target: Anshu Jain.

The Corporate Center workers council, a powerful body that represents the 2,500 employees had put out a flyer entitled “Wind of Change? Wind of Jain?”

The letter called on the bank’s co-chief executive Anshu Jain to resign, stating a radical new start would give the bank back some credibility and could give rise to a real spirit of optimism.

Mr. Jain is apparently no longer able to shake off the repeated criticism so easily. There were numerous negative speeches aimed at him from shareholders over the course of the recent general meeting.

Hart aber Fair

Hart aber fair – Hard but Fair – is a very popular weekly 75-minute talkshow in Germany about political topics. The moderator, Frank Plasberg, and his guests take on especially current and controversial issues. 

As the name of the show suggests the discussions are open, lively and controversial. The show is well prepared and well structured. Ideological speech-making is blocked. Facts and logical argumentation are critical.

Between five and six guests are invited representing politics, academia, non-governmental organizations as well as “the man or woman off the street.”

The guests are carefully selected to represent the specific sides of the argument. The show’s research staff provides background information during certain segments.


Zurückhaltung: reluctance, reticence, caution, reserve, modesty, moderation, self-effacement.

Verschwiegenheit: secrecy. discretion, discreetness, reticence, sercretiveness.

Feingefühl: sensitivity, sensitiveness, delicacy, tactfulness, tact.

Rücksichtnahme: consideration, thoughtfulness, considerateness.

Fingerspitzengefühl: flair, tact, sure instinct, finesse, ability to deal with sensitive issues.

“A little humility would have been better”

Germany. Election night 2005. Chancellor Schröder against the challenger Angela Merkel. German television. The heads of the major parties are present to discuss the results, including Schröder and Merkel.

The moderator addresses Schröder with Herr Bundeskanzler. Schröder grins and says with a touch of irony: “How nice it is for you to address me so.” The moderator is taken aback: “Have you already conceded defeat?” Schröder: “No, absolutely not.”

Gerhard Schröders behavior on that September 18, 2005 remains unique in German television history. It is 8:15 p.m. and Schröder’s SPD and Merkel’s CDU are neck and neck at 34% and 35% respectively. 

Schröder acts, though, as if he has won handily. siegessicher, siegestrunken – sure of victory, triumphant – were the terms later used by the German media. Schröder went on the attack against Merkel on live television: “There is a clear loser, and that very clearly is Merkel.”

Six years later Schröder looked back on that evening and explained to the German people in an article in the Welt am Sonntag what his motives were. His thinking was “there is now no room for diplomacy. This is the moment of truth.”

But it is not true, Schröder continued, that on that evening he thought the election results could swing in favor of his SPD. The Chancellor admitted that “a little humility would have been better.”

Source: Süddeutsche Zeitung, August 14, 2011.

Yell and Scream

“Spectacular was the interaction between Chancellor Helmut Kohl and SPD-Chairman and former Chancellor Willy Brandt on May 12, 1985 after elections in the state of Northrhine Westphalia.

It was a ZDF (Second German Television) discussion and debate about the results which then, however, turned into an argument between Kohl and Brandt about national topics, including German-American relations. 

“You’re hurting the German people with these lies”, Brandt screamed while smacking the table with his hand. “I cannot accept this!”

Kohl, sitting right next to Brandt, remained calm: “You can yell and scream at your employees in the SPD, but not here with us in front of the German people.”

Criticism in Front of Colleagues

Criticism of an individual team member in the presence of the team is an accepted way in which Germans make that individual aware of a weakness or reoccuring error and request that it be addressed. Not only management, but also colleagues, are authorized – and expected – to voice open criticism, to point out what is not working. This kind of open criticism is not considered to be negative.

Open criticism of colleagues is considered negative, however, if it is not aimed at improving performance, but instead in gaining advantage within the team at the expense of that individual colleague.

rügen. To upbraid, to criticize, to admonish; to point out a weakness or failure; to set someone straight.

Jemanden zur Schnecke machen. Figuratively to make some into a snail. To complain to and about someone, to put down harshly, to set someone straight in a direct and harsh way.

Discretion. To hold something private, secret; to be entrusted; to be tactful, considerate, reserved; not pushy.

Pranger. Pillory. A stone column located in the middle of the village to which individuals are chained for a period of time as a form of punishment for a petty crime. Townspeople would often slap or hit them, throw trash at them, or otherwise humiliate them. To put someone on the Pranger means to criticize, even embarrass them in front of the organization.

Not German Know-it-alls

Germans believe in norms. Conformity, uniformity. Rectitude, righteousness. Accommodation, assimilation. Subordination, subsidiarity. If the law states that adults may not ride their bicycles on the sidewalk, then German adults do not ride their bicycles on the sidewalk. Doing otherwise breaches, transgresses, goes against the law, order, against agreements made which are then communicated in the form of a law. The breach demonstrates a lack of respect, of making oneself more important than the others.

In public spaces – such as automobile, bicycle, pedestrian traffic – Germans feel responsible for each other, allowing them, expecting of them, to point out to others what they are doing wrong, which could injure them or others. Just as one would help an older person carry their packages across a busy street, so to one would point out to a parent who forgot to put a bicycle helmet on their child’s head.

Germans believe in having a high degree of collective responsibility. They show concern for, look after, the people around them. Germans do not believe in leaving others alone to suffer the consequences of their own avoidable failures. Both the individual and the group is responsible for the individual. The weak – or less informed – should be supported with “Rat und Tat”, literally advice and action.

Der Deutsch-Franzoser

Not long ago. In a café, talking with a German graduate student interested in doing project work for me. He is intelligent, polite, listening carefully. At the table next to us another guy, same age, drinking tea, eating cake, typing into this laptop, headphones on, on his head a thin woolen cap. It‘s late November. After an hour or so our neighbor pays his bill, packs up his laptop, stands up then turns to me and says: Wissen Sie, es ist sehr unhöflich auf Menschen mit dem Zeigefinger zu deuten.

I was not aware that during my talk with the grad student that I had pointed to him with my index finger. But, wait! Who is this guy to interrupt our conversation and correct my behavior? I was shocked, but then again not surprised. I turned to the grad student – we were discussing differences between cultures – and smiled, saying softly: “There you are. Germans giving unsolicited advice.”

Hardly had I gotten that statement out and my friendly neighbor – not yet finished gathering his things – turned to me again and said: Ich bin Deutschfranzoser. He‘s bicultural, German and French. It wasn‘t worth my time to engage in a debate with him about the matter. It made me wonder, though, if the French also give unsolicited advice.

“Don’t walk around“

Several years ago. Atlanta. A management seminar. One of my first. I have the habit of walking around the room while I talk or listen. Two straight days of sitting is not healthy. And I tend to be wound up.

Day two, just after breakfast, I head to the seminar room to prepare a few flipcharts. Coming down the hall is one of the participants. German. He stops me, clearly angry with me. Sie sollten nicht die ganze Zeit im Seminar aufstehen und herumgehen. Das ist unprofessionell und stört. I should not stand up and walk around the room during the seminar. It is unprofessional. My reaction? Oh, ok. How nice to get such friendly advice.

Bike Helmet

End of a workday. 6:30 pm. Winter. Dark. Raining lightly. I hop on my bike and head home. Turning into my street I ride along the sidewalk on the left hand side of the road. Slowly. Don‘t want the bike to slide out from under me. I also want to be respectful of pedestrians.

I see a woman about twenty-five meters ahead of me. Just before I pass her she suddenly sticks out her left arm like a pole to block me. It works. I brake suddenly, jump off and confront her. “Are you crazy? I could have fallen from my bike and injured myself.”

She stands her ground, looks me in the eye and says very calmly: Sie fahren auf dem Bürgersteig, auf der linken Seite der Strasse und ohne Licht. I was riding on the sidewalk as an adult, on the left hand side of the street and without a bicycle light on.

In Germany, all against the law. I was flabbergasted, not so much at the laws, which make perfect sense, but at the audacity of this woman to play enforcer of the law. I could hardly contain myself. Upon arriving at home I described the scene to my German wife. Her response? Sie hat recht. The woman was right. The marriage didn’t last.