Feedback is critical. It gives us a common understanding. Of where we stand. Of what is and isn’t working. Germans and Americans handle feedback differently.
Germans separate the personal from the professional. Feedback addresses strictly performance. It is given in a neutral and unemotional way. Feedback, whether positive or negative, is not meant personally.
Americans link the personal with the professional. Feedback addresses primarily performance, but takes into consideration how it will be received, thus affect future performance. Feedback on one‘s work is feedback on that individual. Feedback is by its very definition personal.
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.
Germans focus on reducing errors. When providing feedback they concentrate on weaknesses, on what is not working. Germans address weaknesses directly, openly and in a neutral, matter-of-fact way.
Americans focus less on reducing errors, and more on reinforcing what leads to good results. When giving feedback Americans concentrate on strengths. Critique is communicated in a carefully worded, diplomatic way.
Sensitive feedback discussions in the German business context are often done in one-to-one talks. There are situations, however, when Germans openly criticize a team-member in the presence of colleagues. This is not necessarily seen as unfair to that individual. In fact, open criticism within the team can be imperative in order to get issues up on the table.
Sensitive feedback discussions in the U.S. business context are always done in one-to-one talks. Discretion is highly important, especially when the feedback is negative. There is very low tolerance for open criticism of team members in the presence of their colleagues.
Feedback scores are most effective when they are accurate and realistic. When in doubt, Germans are deflationary. The school grading system is: 1 is sehr gut (very good); 2 is gut (good); 3 is befriedigend (satisfactory); 4 is ausreichend (sufficient); 5 is mangelhaft (insufficient); F is ungenügend (failed).
Feedback scores are most effective when they are accurate and realistic enough, but also motivating. When in doubt, Americans are inflationary. The school grading system is: A is excellent; B is very good; C is good; D is unsatisfactory; F is failure.