Positive thinking in the German business context is not unimportant. Germans differentiate more strictly, however, between a realistic can-do attitude and overly optimistic, naive actionism. Germans give praise in direct connection with factually demonstrated performance. Praise in front of the team is seldom, however. Official awards are rare, for they could lead to envy and thus undermine team cohesion.
Americans see themselves as positive thinkers, motivators, self-motivators. It is a sign of leadership to seek out reasons to praise. In fact, praise is most instrumental when an individual or entire team is struggling, experiencing defeat and self-doubt. And a concrete symbol of praise is official recognition in the form of awards. Americans want to be rewarded for good work. Awards ceremonies, small and large, are a key instrument of positive feedback.
American praise often comes across to Germans as inflationary, as simply unwarranted. Too much praise can lead to folks getting big heads. Germans are very alert to and wary of creeping self-delusion.
Germans are seen as praise stingy. Their criticism is direct, often harsh, and usually in generous supply. Americans believe that Germans miss opportunities to motivate by recognizing good performance.
Advice to Germans
If you are in an American team, be prepared for colleagues to say good things about you and to you. Accept it. Life isn’t a zero sum game. Praise for one person doesn’t come at the expense of another. Allow yourself to be motivated by a positive, self-motivating environment. You won’t become a naive dreamer suddenly committing one unforced error after the other.
If you lead Americans, get generous. Praise, motivate, cheer your team on to victory. And remember, their victory is your victory.
Advice to Americans
There is a German saying: “the absence of criticism is praise enough.” German praise comes in a very understated way. You’ll feel like a flower receiving insufficient water and sun. You’ll need to motivate yourself more than ever before. Do it. You’ll develop inner strength.
If you lead Germans, practice the German art of sober understatement. If you decide to single out a team member, include praise for the entire team. Avoid any kind of star creation which could threaten to destablize the team.