Say what you do. Do what you say.

“Say what you do and do what you say”, that’s the motto of German engineer, Norbert Rudat. I think 99.9% of Germans would agree with it.

But wait, wouldn’t everyone, from every culture, agree with it? Perhaps. But are other cultures as literal about it? And I don’t mean literal-minded, but instead meaning something literally as they say it.

For example, do Americans always mean exactly what they say? And do they always say exactly what they mean? What about other cultures: China, France, India, Italy, Japan, Mexico?

Face-time with management

A fascinating article in the New York Times about how a few major U.S. companies are handling the post-Covid work environment. Some employees are returning full-time to the office. Others are working exlusively, or almost excluisively from home. And many are splitting the time between office and home.

There are, of course, consequences for each choice. And in the U.S. some companies are concerned about reduced opportunities for those folks who are less present in the office. Why? Reduced face-time with management.

This is a clear statement about the nature of leadership in the U.S. business environment: Get face-time with your boss !

If you collaborate with Germans, ask them if less face-time with management would be a disadvantage or an advantage. And when you do, read to them, as best you can this, well-know, German figure of speech: “Gehe nicht zu Deinem Fürst, wenn Du nicht gerufen wirst.”

Phonetically: Gay nisht tsu die nem first, venn doo nisht gay-roofen veerst.

Lieber Armin Laschet

Bitte nicht immer “wir müssen” sagen, sondern eher “wir werden alles unternehmen, dass wir … erreichen”. Mehr zupackend argumentieren, der klare Wille muss bei den Menschen ankommen. Danke.

Please don’t always say “we must”, but instead more like “we will do everything possible, so that we … achieve more.” Argue more dynamically. Get across clear determination and willpower. Thanks.

That was the advice given by a German professor for information security and data privacy. As a comment on an article in LinkedIn.

Armin Laschet, the Premier (think governor) of Germany’s most populous state, Northrhine Westphalia, is the Christian Democratic Union – CDU (think Adenauer, Kohl, Merkel) chancellor candidate in the September 2021 federal elections in Germany.

German compound words

This video is pure genius. It gives superb examples about how the German language enables one to communicate very complex emotions in just one word, typically a compound of two words.

Futterneid. Kummerspeck. Luftschloss. Lebensmüde. Schadenfreude. The list goes on and on. Talk to your German colleagues about this. You’ll love the conversation.

Mr. German Man is direct

An American woman. Married to a German man. How her husband is very direct. And about how Americans learn to be indirect, especially when giving negative feedback.

Warning ! This woman is a youtuber. And an American on top. So, she is more than a bit animated. And frankly, she could have made her points in about two minutes instead of seven and a half.

Watch the first three minutes.

Cliché

A phrase or expression. Boring from much use. Not fresh or original. Something that has become overly familiar or commonplace. French, literally, printer’s stereotype, from past participle of clicher. (MerriamWebster)

Jesse Owens and Lutz Long

Berlin, 1936, the Olympic Games. The great American track and field athlete, Jesse Owens, wins the gold medal in the 100 meter, the 200 meter, the 4×100 meter dash, as well as in the long jump.

What many people don’t know, however, is that the silver medalist in the long jump, the German Carl Ludwig “Lutz” Long, had given Owens the kind of advice that only a true colleague, and friend, would give.

Going into the 1936 games Long had been the reigning German champion and holder of the European record. The Nazi hierarchy – and the German people – had anticipated gold for Germany.

In the qualification round Owens had fouled twice in a row by stepping on the white board delineating the jump-off point. A third foul would have disqualified him. Jesse Owens would have failed to advance to the final round. The crowd, the millions listening by radio, and especially Owens himself, were unsettled.

After that second fault, Lutz Long walked over to his competitor and advised him to simply imagine the foul line to be located one foot closer than it actually was, saying that he just had to avoid fouling a third time, and that his third jump would easily be enough to advance to the next round.

Some sources claim that Long went so far as to lay down his white towel marketing where Owens should leap from, ensuring that he would not foul a third time.

Jesse Owens took the advice given to him by that German, advancing to the final round, and then setting a record which would hold for decades. Lutz Long took the silver.

Immediately after the medal ceremony, when Owens and Long stepped off the podium – and in full view of Adolf Hitler and many of the highest ranking National Socialist officials – Lutz Long, the German, smiled, shook hands with Owens, then hooked Jesse’s right arm into his left and proceeded to walk with him around the track, smiling, talking, congratulating.

1936. Tensions in Europe were very high. The German regime was espousing a crude racial theory. And in the United States, an African-American like Jesse Owens was treated as a second-class citizen, at best. With the world watching, and in conscious defiance of his own government, Lutz Long, a German, reached out to his archrival to give a small bit of helpful advice. Unsolicited.

Postscript: After the 1936 Olympic Games Jesse Owens was celebrated triumphantly in the U.S., only then to be forgotten for two decades, and to struggle financially, until the 1950s brought him a presidential appointment as American Ambassador of Goodwill by Dwight Eisenhower, and with it lucrative celebrity endorsements as well as a long, healthy, happy life.

Lutz Long, his German friend, died in battle against the Western Allies in Italy at the age of thirty. Fast forward the video above to 1:38 mins:

“You could melt down all of the medals and cups I have and they wouldn’t be a plating for the twenty-four carat friendship I felt for Lutz Long at that moment.” Jesse Owens

The American. The German.

Question

“Is it accurate – and helpful – to refer to the American? What do a New Yorker, a recent Mexican immigrant in Texas, and a Californian have in common?“

Answer

There are several aspects at play here. Let’s go one at a time:

Broad and deep consensus

This is an extraordinarily important question. Why?

If the answer is: “John, you cannot generalize about people. There is no such thing as the American or the German”, then CI, my work, your reflecting on intercultural differences has little to no value.

This foundational question is posed to me time and again. Since I intend to address it soon in a more systematic way, I’ll just give you some food for thought, in the form of questions and statements.

If a large, complex society functions well (see Germany, USA), then there must be a broad and deep consensus among its people about how it does some very fundamental things. See the ten topics CI currently addresses. There are more. What is meant is not a lowest common denominator in those things, but a deeply rooted belief about those things.

Immigrant influence

Although America is an immigrant nation, with newcomers arriving constantly and from different cultures, can you name which newcomer-cultures were immediately embraced by the dominant culture(s) within America?

Asked differently: If you are an American, when was the last time you – in the workplace – went up to a colleague who is a recent immigrant (or at least first generation American) and asked them about their culture, with the expressed intent to allow your own thinking (culture) to be influenced by that colleague’s culture?

American history makes clear that the dominant cultures within the U.S. invariably demand of immigrants that they assimilate.

Your success in other American companies

If you are capable at what you do, you are able to transfer immediately to another company within the U.S. and to perform the same or similar work at the same level – or higher – of proficiency. Why?

Because of your capabilites, yes. But primarily because you are an American and would be moving to another American company. Would this be the case if you were to move to a company in the same business sector, doing the same work, but in another business culture?

Let me finish by addressing one difference between Germans and Americans. The topic is Persuasion. The German logic is: “Arguments should speak for themself.” The American logic is: “Sell yourself first, then your product or service.”

People in boxes

If those two statements are true – the one for Germans, the other for Americans – would there be any significant variation – in the context of German-American collaboration – if the German giving a presentation were man or woman; young or old; Catholic, Protestant or non-believer; from Northern or Southern Germany; extrovert or introvert; trained in the sciences, engineering, law, economics or humanities; from a large or a small family; working in the automobile industry or chemicals or software or financial services; in a position high, mid or low in the organization?

Or flip it around. If the statement is fundamentally true about how American persuade, and an American were attempting to persuade a German audience, would it make any significant difference whether that American were male or female; young or old; etc.?

I believe not.

You see, we can “put people in boxes.” We can generalize. In fact, we do it all the time. We look for patterns in order to deal with complexity.

There are such things as national cultures. There are peoples. And peoples have charactistics. They have ways of thinking and acting. Our job is to understand those ways, discuss them, and find out how to best combine them. That is what our work is all about.