“Hey, how are you?”

Observations of a young German woman in Cincinnati, Ohio in the U.S.

This comment gets it right: “My experience with small talk is that it starts light and superficial, but the longer it goes on, the more personal it gets. It’s as if both are sending out feelers to find out how deep (or long) the conversation is going to be and to make sure both can end it (or back off) at any time without things getting awkward.

The answer to ‘how are you’ (‘hey, what’s up?’ actually) is always expected to be short, but can be open ended to lead the other person to probe deeper if they wish, such as, ‘okay I guess, I got some stuff going on.’ The other person can back off and say, ‘yeah, I hear ya’ and change the subject if they don’t want to go deeper, or respond with, ‘really? what’s going on?’ if they want you to open up more. Like a verbal tennis match where each hit gets harder to see how intense the game will be. I’m not sure I phrased it right, but I think you catch my meaning.”

Glück

From DW – Let’s face it, we could all do with a bit of good luck this year. Rachel is on the hunt for lucky charms in Germany and finding out a bit about German happiness along the way. Is Germany a happy nation? What brings good or bad luck in Germany? And why is Rachel on a pig farm? Find out in this week’s Meet the Germans.

A teacher in German commented: “I’m actually studying to become a teacher and we intentionally wish the students “success” and not “good luck” because of the very reason you stated: we want them to feel like they can have an impact on the result by studying and not just being lucky.”

Another commend: “The secretary at the welcome desk in our university mentioned to me that the following day was her birthday, and I very innocently and enthusiastically said, “Alles Gute!”. I will never forget the almost terrifying face, the awkward silence, like I had committed a crime. “It’s not really good to wish someone happy birthday before the day,” she said. I had no idea. She tried to laugh it off, but her eyes looked seriously worried I carry the guilt to this day.”

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 or more words.

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

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)

On the same page

The first step an American supplier will take is to gain a deep understanding of the customer‘s needs. Because these aren’t always so concrete, they must also try to identify the perceived needs. The relationship with the customer should be highly collaborative on all levels, from the beginning to the end.

The American supplier, vendor, consultant, constantly strives to make sure that they are “on the same page” with the client. In fact, they work literally side-by-side with the client, going to the client’s place of work and completely adjusting their schedule. They maintain continuous dialogue throughout the process so that they always understand the client’s needs and desires, especially as they change.

This includes knowledge-transfer agreements, which detail when the customer will be able to do something on his own, without supplier assistance, so that he begins to take over the process.

Results: Because the customer exerts such a certain level of control over the external expert (the how as well as the what), the expert is held accountable exclusively for the work dictated (ordered) by the customer. How the results might affect related areas within the client company remains the responsibility of the customer. Responsibility cannot exceed scope of work.

Information: For this collaborative effort to function effectively a high level of communication between customer and supplier is necessary. Information flow is guaranteed via short-term feedback between the customer and the supplier during the entire business relationship. This allow customers to modify their requests depending on changing situations.

Auf Augenhöhe

Augenhöhe. Literally at eye level. Equals. On equal footing.

It is said that Germans will work without stopping until they have completed the task. A prerequisite for such effort is that the parties involved are partners at eye level, are equals, the opposite of a master-slave type of relationship. Germans, as employees and as companies, want to work more as consultants, as experts, than as mere service providers or as servants.

Germans are self-confident about their abilities and skills. Even when the relationship in terms of the contract, the law or societal expectations cannot possibly be one of equals, they expect, and often demand, a business relationship auf Augenhöhe, at eye level, to be treated like colleagues.

To collaborate at eye level is not just a matter of good form. It is a serious demand especially from small- to medium-sized companies, the famed German Mittelstand. Many German companies advertise their willingness and ability to work together with business parters auf Augenhöhe, signaling their desire to be open, transparent and honest.

Companies which promise collaboration at eye level are stating that they treat all partners, regardless of size or prestige, as equal partners. Respect is critical, not the size of the contract or the nature of the partnership. This includes informing the other partner immediately when things go wrong. One‘s expertise is put to good service for the other partner. Neither side looks to gain advantage.

Germans strive for a high level of openness and honesty from the very beginning of a business relationship. As a well-known German company once stated: Zusammenarbeit auf Augenhöhe sichert Qualität. Colloboration at eye level guarantees quality.

Customer is not King

In Germany, at the beginning of the business relationship the responsibility for how the work is done – methods and approaches – is transferred from the customer to the supplier. For the customer has contracted the expert to solve a problem, to complete a task, to manage a project. It is expected that the expert do so with limited involvement of the customer. For the two parties have already discussed and agreed on the details of how the work will be done.

The German client, therefore, wants to know upfront the methods and approaches used by the supplier. At the same time, the customer respects how the supplier works, including adapting customer requirements to supplier methods and approaches. In the end the supplier has the say about her own processes, which produce the results desired by the customer.

Every product and service is a clear indication of how a company works, their methods and approaches. And German customers are deeply interested in how the work is done. They want to understand how the supplier works. They want to be convinced by the supplier‘s expertise. The German customer also knows that the success of the business relationship will depend on close collaboration, on the coordination of work processes from both sides.

Whenever a company as the customer contracts an external supplier, they are implicitly admitting to a gap in their own expertise, implicitly stating that the area of expertise of the supplier is not a part of the their own core expertise. Companies small and large, regional and international, are constantly defining what their core expertise is, what business they are in. Defining that means defining what external suppliers they need to draw on.

This is one reason why for Germans the customer is not king, but instead a partner. German suppliers expect, and in many cases demand, that the customer accept them as partners, accept a partnership of equals, auf Augenhöhe, literally at eye‘s level.

Germans see a customer-supplier relationship as complementary, with each side having its respective strengths and weaknesses, its core and non-core areas. To do business together means to help fill each other‘s gaps in expertise, to complement each other, to serve each other.

Supplier as Partner

Customer-supplier relationships make up the web of today‘s modern economy. Globalization is demanding more and more specilization. No company can succeed without trusting relationships with suppliers.

Nonetheless, it is the suppliers who first feel the pain when the economy weakens. German companies, however, do their best to maintain their viability, their strength. They want their suppliers to succeed along with them. Suppliers are viewed as partners in innovation.

Germany‘s largest global companies stress, therefore, time and again the importance of maintaining partnerships with their suppliers, how they together strive to establish ever higher standards of quality.

One of the largest German manufacturers of medical technology stated recently that a supplier‘s size in terms of revenue is far less important than its technical ability and willingness to work together over a long period of time. They see themselves as partners in product development.

Another German supplier operating worldwide has developed into a major customer in its own right, setting up a complex international network of suppliers, integrating its research and development area with a few selected suppliers. Its motto is: Des einen Lücke, ist des anderen Expertise, loosely translated as: The gap in the one company, is the expertise of the other.

Not Your Bitch

In 2009, author Neil Gaiman, who was born in England but has lived in the US since 1992, wrote a blogpost titled Entitlement Issues. In it he discusses a letter he received from a fan of the author George R R Martin, who complained that it seemed like Martin wasn’t spending enough time working on his latest novel.

Gaiman comments on how readers tend to think that, once they spend money on one of the books in a series, the author no longer has the right to do anything other than write the next one. 

At one point he writes “you’re complaining about George doing other things than writing the books you want to read as if your buying the first book in the series was a contract with him: that you would hand over your ten dollars, and George for his part would spend every waking hour until the series was done, writing the rest of the books for you.”

The English-American author also attempts to convince readers that authors are not obligated to fulfill their readers’ every wish, saying, “George R R Martin is not your bitch.”

Der Kluge baut vor

Vorbereiten. To prepare. To anticipate a situation; to be enabled to complete a task; to do the work needed beforehand; to develop oneself.

The Germans place great value in being well prepared. They gather information early, complete the initial steps, anticipate what will come. They believe that being prepared saves time and effort, and allows them to make the best decisions. 

Der Kluge baut vor. The intelligent one prepares early. Those who are not prepared, who, for example, forget to buy certain things when food shopping, or cannot respond to questions in a meeting, have only themselves to blame. To be well prepared is in Germany not voluntary, not a nice-to-have, it is expected. Germans are under pressure to think things through, to write things down, to do their homework.

The purpose of good preparation is to get the work done faster and better. One needs no more than a shopping list when it is clear what meal will be cooked. To prepare for a meeting is not difficult, provided one knows what will be discussed.

In Germany, most people have a concrete idea of how things should be, of what they plan to eat, of what they will discuss in a meeting. Germans not only make plans, they live according to them.