“Patience is the strongest of weapons”

Max Weber described politics as “slowly drilling through the thickest boards”, meaning it demands patience and perseverance to reach one’s goals.

Konrad Adenauer – West German chancellor form 1949 until 1963 – had the same thought in mind when in 1946 he said:

“Patience is the strongest of weapons, of a defeated people laid so low.” Germany after the Second World War lay in ruins. And due to the crimes committed by its Nazi-regime was an occupied pariah state. 

Because Adenauer knew it would be many years before Germany would be reunited, he stressed patience and perseverance not only to the West Germans, but also to the Western Allies – the occupying forces. 

Adenauer referred time and again to German history, to the two world wars and the centuries further back. His approach, his long-term perspective, his stamina, proved to be right. Twenty years after his Adenauer’s death the two Germanies were reunited and has become one of the great forces for stability in and for Europe.

Sigmund Freud

Although Sigmund Freud was an Austrian his methods of psychoanalysis to resolve personal conflicts had tremendous influence in the entire German-speaking world, and eventually beyond. Psychoanalytical therapy involved up to three hundred individual sessions.

For Freud, as the founder of psychoanalysis, it was essential to identify unconscious emotional developments in order to understand human behavior. The earliest years of childhood are especially relevant. Psychological problems – conflicts – can be traced back to those earliest of years. 

Understanding developments over very long periods of time are fundamental to Freud’s approach to conflict resolution. Tracing psychological problems far back into one’s personal history, making the unconscious conscious, is the opposite of a quick (hasty) resolution of conflict.

Conflict Resolution Training

Anyone in Germany who has ever attented school knows about Schlichterausbildung – Conflict Resolution Training. It is a workshop in which high school students learn how to defuse and resolve conflicts peacefully, how to reach a compromise which both conflict parties can accept.

There are also Schlichter – conflice resolution experts – in the German court system, and in many public organizations. Often they handle conflicts at the national level, such as the one surrounding the total remodeling of Stuttgart’s Main Train Station.

The conflict resolution method taught in German schools has several steps: 1. Calm down the conflict parties. 2. Communicate in the first person (“I”). 3. See the conflict from the viewpoint of the other party. 4. Admit to you are a part of the conflict. 5. Look for a resolution via brainstorming. 6. Agree to the resolution. Apologize. Thank.

These straightforward steps are representative for the German need for harmony and mutual respect.  Conflict is not resolved when one party gets his or her way. Instead, conflict is resolved when a compromise is found which is equitable and acceptable for both sides.

Both sides in the conflict should have the impression that their viewpoint, opinion, position have been listened to, understood, respected and considered in the resolution. This desire for harmony is in stark contrast to the cliché that Germans are authoritarian, that they rely on strict structures of hierarchy.

The Art of Diplomacy

In March 2014 Vladimir Putin annexed Crimea. Not only did he upset the Ukraine, but also Germany, the E.U. and the U.S.A. Ever since this action the conflict became part of a public discussion: sanctions against Russia and the consequences of another cold war are being discussed overtly. International diplomacy needs to find a peaceful solution to this conflict now. 

Minsk II, the treaty in which the conflicted parties agreed upon a truce, is the core of a peaceful solution. But the treaty has been very fragile from the start. There is a lack of trust and so international policy continues with a lot of effort to finally find a way to make the agreement work. The U.S.A., the E.U. and primarily Germany are trying to support conversations with Russia. 

The U.S.A. and E.U. seem to agree on further strategies before cameras. But behind closed doors they differ. A closer look on this issue reveals the different understanding of Germany and the U.S.A. concerning conflict resolutions. 

According to Germany the USA is no longer willing to continue on the german diplomatic course, because they no longer believe talks with Putin to be promising. Possible arms shipments have been considered. From a german point of view there is no other option than continuing the dialogue with Putin – a strategy that rather looks unassertive to the U.S.A, who  prefer a change of pace. 

This is where a difference in perceiving time comes into play: Germany is accepting to extend the conflict as long as there is a “clean” and thought-out solution to the process of dialogues. Germany is accepting a longer “wait” if that is the price. But this takes to long according to americans. Only talking, is unnecessarily prolonging the conflict, from an american point of view, which the U.S.A. disfavours. 

Hasty

Überstürzen. To act impatiently; in haste, without thinking it through; to decide, act, react too quickly; a situation develops too quickly to react to; rapid developments.

Hastig. Hasty, due to impatience; lack of grounding, emotionally excited; in a hurried manner steps, breathing, movements, thoughts.

Holzweg. Literally wooden path. Middle High German holzwec, path in the forest where cut wood is transported; wrong path, path in the wrong direction; to misunderstand a situation, to think wrongly, to err in thinking.

Vertagen. To postpone; to push off to another day; to extend a decision, an event.

Vertuschen. To hide, cover up; to mask something unfortunate, embarrassing or incriminating.

Symptome. Latin symptoma, Greek sýmptōma, temporary characteristic, coincidental event; in medicine an indication of an illness; an observable trait or sign of something negative.

Nachhaltig. Sustained, sustainable, an effect which is lasting, of duration, of influence and importance; to make a sustained impression; to exert influence in a sustained way.

Etwas über das Knie brechen. Literally to break something over the knee. To do something out of haste, without reflection, to force something.

Gut Ding will Weile haben. Literally good things demand patience.

Get to the Roots

When German managers are asked to resolve a conflict, they aim to resolve it in a long-term, sustainable way. Their goal is to document a resolution which can be used time and again whenever a similar type of conflict occurs. Germans seek a best practice resolution and not one which is too tailored to the specific conflict.

At the same time Germans do not like being pushed into a decision. They demand time to think things over. Germans feel uncomfortable being asked to do something for which they have not prepared.

Court Case Duration

Court cases in German can last between 4 and 24 months, some as long as 36 months. A recent law allows the parties in a court case to demand that the court system speed up its proceedings.

German companies promise their employees that internal conflicts will be moderated and resolved within two months. If no resolution is found, the conflict parties have the right to escalate their case to the next level of management.

No Best Practice

Short-, mid-, long-term. Fast, faster, fastest. We know that Americans and Germans define those terms differently. So it is when resolving a conflict.

Germans seek lasting, best practice-like, resolutions. This requires more time upfront, but saves time by reducing the chances that the same or similar conflict arises. Should it arrive, the team need only refer back to the best practice resolution.

Americans seek pragmatic resolutions. Often “down and dirty”, neither elegant nor perfect, they are fast in order to maintain forward movement and team cohesion.

Americans rarely seek a best practice resolution to a given conflict. From their experience, every situation is unique. The context, the content, the people involved, the ramifications, may be similar, but are not the same. Resolution is not a matter of referring to a manual, a process description or an organizational chart.

Patience of an Angel

That Germans avoid rushing into action is imbedded in many of their figures of speech. They communicate the advantages of being patient, and the disadvantages of hastiness and pseudo-solutions to problems.

Geduld bringt Rosen” – patience brings roses. “Gut Ding will Weile haben” – good things need time. Patience in the German language is often seen as a superhuman trait.

Chancellor Angela Merkel. 2019. Press conference. European Union Summit in Brussels postponed.  0:38 Gut Ding will Weile haben.

Germans speak of Engelsgeduld – the patience of an angel. “Geduld ist eine Tugend” – patience is a virtue. 

Even when Germans have to move fast, when they know that they need to “hurry up”, they say “Eile mit Weile!Eile is speed, rush, hastiness. Weile is stay, linger, dwell. Meaning something like “Hurry up, but take your time doing it.

“Good things need their time”

The German expression Gut Ding will Weile haben – good things need their time – states that things which are supposed to turn out good will need some time. This becomes clear especially when important decisions are to be addressed:

“Quality before speed: Merkel pulls the brakes at the introduction of new supervision of European banks.” (Handelsblatt 17.2.2015)

“The German Handball Federation President Bauer: “Quality comes before speed.“ (Lahner Zeitung 20.6.2014)

“NPD-Ban: Quality before speed.” (Hamburger Abendblatt 9.12.2011)

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