Manager as Neutral Party

German team leads have an impersonal, business-like relationship with their team members. They maintain emotional distance from the team in order to guaranty neutrality and fairness. Especially when providing feedback on performance do they focus on results and not on the person.

This sachlich – impersonal, neutral, business-like – approach can be observed in the personal interaction between manager and team. When providing feedback German team leads are reserved, unemotional, their body language limited to a handshake. Neutrality is the key.

Whether discussing past performance or formulating new goals, the Germans focus on the facts, ideally on what is measurable. A discussion about development addresses professional skills and less so personal development. Critique is communicated in a respectful and serious way. Humour is considered disrespectful and unprofessional.

If the feedback discussion includes criticism, German managers strive to be particularly neutral, unemotional, fact-oriented. This reduces the potential for an escalation of emotions. The two parties should focus on performance. The discussion is impersonal and objective.

Colleague, not Facebook friend

In 2010 the online-career portal monster.de conducted a study regarding German behavior in social online networks. 61% of people said that they are not friends with their colleagues via social media.

Only 27% indicated that they talk to their colleagues on Facebook. 12% of the survey participants are friends with their colleagues on Facebook. However, most have different profile settings for colleagues. The survey results suggest that Germans separate their private life and their professional life.

Obama all net

On June 22, 2015 Juli Hirschfeld Davis authored an article in the New York Times under the title “Obama Lowers His Guard in Unusual Displays of Emotion.”

“His eyes well up without warning in private, thinking about his teenage daughters growing up. He choked back tears in public recently while delivering the eulogy for Beau Biden, the son of Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., who died at 46.”

“My takeaway was, ‘Wow — where’s this guy been?’” said Kent Conrad, a former Democratic senator from North Dakota. “I turned to my wife and said, ‘My God, if he’d shown those kinds of feelings, and that kind of connection to others, I think he would have had a different experience as president,’ ” Mr. Conrad said. “If he could let himself show that, he would do much better with the American people, and much better with Congress.”

Days earlier, Mr. Obama had begun a health care speech with an uncommonly intimate greeting for Sister Carol Keehan, the chief executive of the Catholic Health Association of the United States and a political ally.

But even Mr. Obama has admitted that he has been blindsided recently by fits of sadness, many of them prompted by the thought of his daughters growing up. “I start tearing up in the middle of the day and I can’t explain it,” Mr. Obama told attendees at an Easter prayer breakfast in April. “Why am I so sad? They’re leaving me.”

He wiped away tears in February as he bade farewell to Eric H. Holder Jr., a confidant who served for six years as his attorney general. People close to the president say he is often unfairly tagged as apathetic simply because he does not carry on publicly about his feelings.

“This is, in many ways, a private man — he is not somebody who wears his emotions on his sleeve,” Mr. Connolly said of Mr. Obama. “That doesn’t mean he doesn’t have emotions.”

Germans don’t wear their emotions on their sleeves, either.

Context Irrelevant

Germans strive to separate substance from person. They can argue vehemently and still respect each other, even remain close friends. This allows them to pay less attention to the specific context of the interaction.

It is relatively unimportant whether they are communicating with their neighbor in front of their house, an acquaintance in the streetcar, a relative on the phone or a colleague at their workplace. A discussion about a topic of substance has little to do with the person individually.

The ability to separate substance from person is in the German business context among the fundamental abilities expected not only of employees, but especially of those who lead them – management. The self-understanding of the German citizen includes – consciously or unconsciously – the obligation to argue a point, to address a problem, to state an opinion objectively, critically, fairly.

Civil Service German

Beamtendeutsch – the German of civil servants – prefers nouns instead of verbs, in the hope of coming across as sophisticated. It is not only typical in documents and correspondence with and between German government agencies at local, state and national levels –  Beamtendeutsch has also found its way into large German companies. Its compact form, and supposed clarity, aim to be objective and authoritative. Verbs are turned into nouns. To notify becomes a notification of.

Beamtendeutsch also turns the active form into the passive, making it difficult for the reader to know who the subject is. It then creates Substantivketten, literally noun-chains: Application for Registration of Residence for Foreign Students in the County. The German language in general favors individual words made up of several nouns:

Leistungsnachweiserbringungspflicht or Leistung (benefit, performance) – Nachweis (certificate, confirmation) – Erbringung (producing, provision) – Pflicht (duty, responsibility), which in English would read: „Students must show proof of course completion.“

“Dienst ist Dienst”

Dienst ist Dienst und Schnaps ist Schnaps – literally: Work is work. Schnaps is schnaps (alcoholic beverage) – is a very well-known German figure of speech underlining the strict separation between work and play. A similar figures of speech conveys German thinking: Erst die Arbeit, dann das Vergnügen – first work, then enjoyment.

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