German Approach

A yes in the German context is more exception than the rule. Germans are reluctant to enter into an agreement without being sure that they can deliver. They, therefore, respond almost instinctively with reasons why they cannot (yet) enter into an agreement. 

That’s because the German yes signals a high degree of commitment. It is the equivalent of giving your word, of entering into an oral contract, something not done without first giving the agreement serious consideration.


American Approach

A yes in the American context is more the rule than exception. Americans almost instinctively say yes to assisting a colleague or to serving a customer. Reacting quickly with a no is interpreted as negative, unhelpful, uncooperative. 

The American yes, however, can signal different levels of commitment. The unreflected yes means: “In principle I want to help you. I‘ll think about if and how I can.” The level of commitment is clarified by questions about time, resources, interest, and other obligations.


German View

The spontaneous American yes if often not credible to Germans. Americans seem to say yes to everything, without first thinking through if they can deliver. What Germans experience as American overpromising can become a serious problem. Germans can all too quickly come to the conclusion that Americans aren’t reliable.

American View

Americans expect, and therefore miss, getting at least the intention to say yes from their German colleagues. Americans sense immediately their reluctance. When Germans respond that they need to first check out the details, Americans suspect it to be an excuse. It can appear that German colleagues are not team-players.

Advice to Germans

Beware of the American overpromiser. It‘s not a sign of unreliability, but of spirit. Get clarity about the level of commitment of an American yes by asking the famous w-questions: who? why? by when?, and of course, how?

Get concrete. Which also means listen very carefully to the conditions. The more conditional the yes, the harder the no being communicated. When in doubt, simply state that you are not sure about the level of commitment.

Advice to Americans

A German yes seldom comes quickly. Germans need time to assess a situation. Give them that time. It is well worth waiting for their yes. Once a German commits, they deliver. You will need to be patient. And remember, patience is a virtue.