Don’t celebrate success

“Our German colleagues seem to be much more reserved in celebrating successes. Whether it’s a business, personal or even sporting event, they do not seem to celebrate victories. I was wondering why?“

I know what you mean. Americans are often quite surprised by how reserved the Germans are, modest, even stoic. Especially after successes.

Americans inflationary

What Americans might call a success is often for Germans “just doing our job.” We Americans, if we’re honest with ourselves, know that we have become inflationary in praise.

Just look at the terms we use: great, fantastic, awesome, super, etc. Very rarely would Germans use comparable terms in their own language.

In fact, America has become inflationary in general: McMansions of the 1990s and 2000s; oversized portions of food and drinks; grade inflation at just about all levels of education; inflated working titles in the private and public sectors; federal monetary policy (“quantitative easing”); trophies awarded to youth sports teams far from the top of their league.

Thankfully, a debate has begun in the U.S. challenging all of this over-praising. For the danger in inflationary praise is losing touch with reality.

Germans deflationary

At the same time the German approach can be too deflationary. Nicht geschimpft, ist genug gelobt – literally means, not chewed out is praise enough.

Many Germans with experience working with and for Americans have very positive things to say about how in the U.S. people are praised for good work and for team successes.

They feel motivated by it and wish there were more such positive thinking in German organizations.

If not understood, this cultural difference can have very significant (negative) influence on American-German collaboration.

In the end, Americans and Germans who collaborate need to sit down together, discuss these cultural differences, then decide how they jointly define success, as well as if and how they want to celebrate them.

It can be done. It isn’t rocket science. First understand the differences in approach. Then integrate those approaches.

“Great question”

“I have picked up from my American faculty colleagues that their first response to a question from a student is ‘Great question!’ before answering the question. One of the German faculty colleagues once mentioned that this may come across to German students as patronising. What is the best first response to a question posed by German students?”