Small Talk

German Approach

In the German business context small talk is small, meaning short in duration. The Germans prefer to transition quickly to issues of substance, from small talk to big talk. They see little value in talking about the weather, sports or what they did in their most recent vacation. Germans get personal in non-business settings.


American Approach

In the American business context small talk is an essential part of communication. It gets communication going. Small talk also allows each person to get a sense for the overall atmosphere. Americans seldom jump directly into the substance of the communication. Business is always personal. Americans get personal in both business and non-business settings.


German View

Germans know that small talk in the U.S. is important. There are books and seminars explaining it. Nonetheless, Germans get impatient with American small talk. It takes up valuable time. In Germany it is not a must to be personal with the people they interact with. They can even do business with people they don‘t like.

American View

German small talk is small. It can seem as if they are just going through the motions. Their quick transition from small to big talk is for Americans a sign of impatience. The Germans can come across as impersonal, which for Americans means unfriendly. Who wants to work with unfriendly people?

Advice to Germans

In the U.S. all relationships, including in business, are personal. If it isn‘t personal, it isn‘t a relationship. Small talk is the most basic form of how Americans maintain communication. You can learn how to do it. Open yourself up. Go with the flow. Good rapport gets you to, and through, the business topics much more quickly.

Advice to Americans

Transition with the Germans quickly from small to big talk. They are being neither impersonal nor unfriendly. Germans get personal in non-business settings. They will do business with you even if you have little or no personal relationship. They want to know if you are good at what you do. Personal is nice. Professional is better.