Like a legal battle

“Germans love processes and procedures and rules. Our American point of view is: Processes are man-made. We can change them.

Customers in the U.S. find it difficult to do business with us as a German company: Too inflexible. We are constantly debating internal business rules. We struggle to get things done.

We can’t get them to change. They always find a way to logically disprove what we are trying to do or they keep pushing for more data. It’s like a legal battle. They wear us down. Help! What can we do?”

“constantly debating internal business rules”, I have heard this complaint hundreds of times over the years. If it is any consolation, you are not alone and the issue is not unique to you.

The fact is that Americans and Germans have, in many ways, very different approaches to processes. And keep in mind that processes are the – formal and informal – ways in which the work is done. Processes, and procedures and so-called desktop procedures, are the rules which govern the running of the company, of any company. This is serious stuff.

Folks – Americans and all other cultures working in a German company – your German colleagues take processes seriousy, very seriously, as they should. Processes define how the work is done. How the work is done, in turn, determines results, business results, whether you will all be able to pay your bills month in and month out.

Continue to engage with each other. Be patient with one another. Most importantly, before you enter into intense internal discussions and debates about which processes need to be modified, in which ways, and why, be sure to first understand where you differ in terms of your respective approaches to processes, your process philosophies.

Go to the links above. Read. Reflect. Then discuss. Together as colleagues. Sie sitzen in dem selben Boot. You’re sitting in the same boat.

Focus on being right

“Why in Germany is there such a focus on being right?”

Competitive, Capable

Although the Germans are a people of only eighty million, their economy is ranked fourth behind the United States with three hundred million, the Chinese with one billion three hundred and forty million, and the Japanese with one hundred and thirty million.

The Dax30 are some of the most successful global companies. The Germans continue to be among the world‘s leaders in critical industries: automobiles, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, electronics, telecommunications, and especially those based on mechanical engineering.

Many experts believe that the great strength of the German economy lies in its so-called Mittelstand, an umbrella term for small- to medium-sized companies. Many of these family-owned business enjoy very high market shares, some dominating their particular markets worldwide.

During the financial crisis in the United States and Europe it is the German economy which continues to enjoy consistent growth. Its government is forecasting a balanced budget again in the year 2016. And despite discussion and debate about the merits of austerity measures, the German economy is the envy, and perhaps for some countries, the model of how to work.

As a people, the Germans are indeed battlesome, quarrelsome. As Northern Europeans their history as a people is deeply rooted in centuries of conflict, some initiated by them, many not.

The German strive for excellence. On the athletic field they have proven their ability to win. In the modern Olympic games the Germans have consistently ranked among the top medal winners, despite their modest population size. The most popular sport in Germany is soccer. There, too, they produce winning teams.

The Germans are a competitive and capable people. They like to win.

Zukunft sichern

Zukunft, a noun, means the future. Sichern, a verb, means to secure. In their domestic political debates all German parties address what Germany needs to do in order to secure its future. For foreign ears this can sound a bit exaggerated, purposely alarming. But it is meant literally and taken seriously by the German people.

German society involves a significant role of the government. Social services are many and expensive. The Germans are generous with each other. These services, however, can only be financed by a strong economy, which, in turn, requires that German companies offer products and services which command high prices and high margins.

The key to this, from the German perspective, is maintaining a very high level of intellectual and technical expertise. They are acutely aware of how critical it is to their future to train and develop people strong in the natural sciences, mathematics, and especially in engineering.

For Germans, ideas matter. Ideas are the core, the source of their expertise. Knowledge secures their future, not only of their economy and their companies, but also as individuals in their jobs within those companies.

Discussing and debating important issues, topics, subjects is something the German people take very seriously. Depending on the subject matter, they could see them as affecting directly their future, as individuals, companies, as a people.

Could it be that the subjects, topics, issues, questions which Germans consider to be absolutely essential (core) to their success (Zukunft, future) are not necessarily the same as those considered to be core by the Americans?

In other words, those topics which Germans get competitive (argumentative) about might very well be non- or less-core topics for Americans, leading Americans to think, and perhaps say: „Just relax, folks. This is important, but not a life-or-death issue. Let‘s reach some common ground here, then move on.“

Intellectual Curiosity

The Germans are an exceptionally curious people. They want to explore, ask, inquire, in the end understand. They want to move ever closer to the truth.

Some of modern Western civilization‘s greatest thinkers were German: In the natural sciences such as chemistry and biology, in mathematics and certainly in physics, but equally so in philosophy, theology, history, economics, political theory, sociology, and the law. The German approach to higher education, the Universität, of the 19th century was the model for the modern American university.

The Germans are known for being complex, analytical and systematic thinkers. They take pride in, they value highly, the ability to durch die dicksten Bretter bohren, literally to drill through the thickest boards. Conversely, the Germans have little respect or patience for those who take a superficial approach to any questions, task or endeavour.


The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines stubborn as „unreasonably unyielding; difficult to handle, manage, or treat.“ It lists the following similar words (synonym): adamant, bullheaded, dogged, hard, hardheaded, inflexible, intransigent, opinionated. stiff-necked. The opposite (antonym) of stubborn is: acquiescent, agreeable, amenable, compliant, flexible, pliable, yielding.

Indeed, the Germans can be stubborn. Some individual Germans can be particularly inflexible. It could even be argued that stubbornness is a German character trait. We will leave that question to the psychologists and sociologists.

The Germans also have a tendancy to be know-it-alls. Their term is Besserwisser, from besser better and wisserknower, from Wissen knowledge. See the link below.

But, if we are honest with ourselves, we should ask „Who likes to be wrong?“, especially on important matters. In fact, stubbornness can be a positive character trait if it means „holding your ground“ or „defending a principle“ or „staying focused on what is right, good, effective.“

Argument vs. Counter-Argument

Depending on how a given culture communicates, interacts, discusses and debates, the Germans can come across as insisting on being right. „Why do they always have to be right?“, one asks in frustration and exasperation. This could be influenced, therefore misperceived, simply by how Germans communicate.

A contributing factor is the Germans belief in the value of dialectical thinking: thesis, antithesis, synthesis. Stated in an overly simplified way, Germans, consciously or unconsciously, discuss topics in terms of a statement made by one person, this then countered or challenged by the other person, in the hope of arriving at a higher level of understanding. What for the Americans is an argument, is for the Germans a discussion.

Discussions with Germans can, indeed, take on the character of a debate. They are taught to think this way, in their schooling, in their place of work. Germans believe in the value of rigorous thinking and debating. Therefore, they can come across as argumentative, a term with a negative meaning, simply because they discuss via argument and counter-argument.