When follow-up is ok

Despite German reluctance to use follow-up, there are situations in which it is unavoidable: In order to stick to a well-defined plan; when the customer requests information; if work results are not delivered on time. The Germans prefer the term nachfassen – literally, after hold. Or nachhaken – literally, after-hook or -check.

Follow-up in Germany can be either negative or positive. Negative in the sense of control. Positive in the sense of support. Follow up – negative – questions one’s ability and willingness to produce good work results. At the same time – positive – it is essential to checking technical details, getting necessary information, verifying due dates.

Organizations which are time-driven rely on follow up. News organizations are just one example. Any and all forms of logistics is another. Timing is critical. Schedules need to be met. Employees are under pressure. Deadlines are deadlines.

Follow-up can be supportive. An older, more experienced colleague can inquire in a friendly way about the status of another’s work. A team lead who coaches her team well knows when and how to follow up by simply asking “How are things going? Can I help in any way?”

Follow-up by colleagues on a report, speech, or published article is positive. It means that they have taken sincere interest in your work. It also gives them an opportunity to demonstrate their competence by asking intelligent questions.

In German team meetings follow-up is the rule, not the exception. Open action items can be addressed directly. Team members establish a common baseline of information.

Finally, there is another very legitimate reason to use follow-up in Germany: If things are not going right, if an error has been detected, if the work is being performed improperly. In such cases there is only one course of action. Follow up, and fast!

Mistrust, a Virus

Follow up in Germany is a sign of mistrust, of doubt in one’s reliability, in that person’s ability to deliver what they have promised. For Germans typically only commit if they are close to absolutely certain that they can execute.

Germans are very sensitive about mistrust, and do not deal with it well. A fictitious example: Small team. The members have their individual tasks, but need to collaborate at certain points. They work well together. The team lead can pay less and less attention to them. A new team member, though, begins to take advantage of the lead’s hands-off management style by looking for personal advantage.

The other team members become a bit unsettled. A few others also begin to think only of themselves. Mistrust creeps into the team, the points of contact become strained, collaboration more difficult. Their boss sees the signs and reacts by scheduling team meetings more frequently, checking on each team member’s work. Then come the emails and phone calls going into more detail.

The increased follow up strains relations. Several of the team members begin to look for alternative jobs within the company. A top performer is gone within a month. Others have sent out their resumés. Follow up can lead to mistrust, a virus with potentially deadly results.


Verkaufsscheu. Sales shy.

Companies with a monopoly are the only ones who don’t need sales and marketing. All others need to fight for new customers on a daily basis. In Germany, too. But Germans don’t feel comfortable knocking on doors, even less so following up on an initial contact if the first response was skeptical.

Follow-up means making that second or third call, writing that second or third email, reaching out again. What’s the problem? Germans don’t like pushing their product or service, especially if they sense that the other party may not be interested. Often Germans are too polite, too slow, not aggressive enough.

Perhaps this is related to Germans identifying themselves strongly with their work. They want to stand fully and totally behind what they do. Sales also involves uncertainty, unpredictability, and situations for which one cannot fully prepare. The interactions can be short, spontaneous, shallow. Germans prefer predictability and depth.

Too obtrusive

In 2011 Spiegel Online published an article on how to write a job application for the American labor market. The beginning of the article points out differences between Germany and the US.

“Asking additional questions is not considered bothersome and the marital status should not be in your resume. If you apply at an American company it is easy to trip over cultural differences. Here is an overview over the most important concepts.”

After turning in your application, the article suggests: ”You should not expect that he or she will get back to you on his/her own.”

Conversely, asking additional questions is interpreted as annoying in Germany. The potential employer will get back to you on their own if they are interested. Asking further questions is considered to be obtrusive in Germany.


The Berlin-Brandenburg Airport is a topic surrounded by discord. There is no end in sight for this odyssey. The costs just continue to rise into incalculable sums. This caused the association of taxpayers to heavily criticize the politicians responsible for it in 2012.

The airport was a manifest of poor planning, mismanagement, incomplete construction plans, and expenses beyond the budget. The association of taxpayers blacklisted the overseeing committee of high-ranking representatives from Berlin and Brandenburg and the federal government, accusing them of political failure and blind trust in the underqualified management” of the airport.