Common and Unoriginal

According to Penelope Brown and Stephen Levinson, authors of the book Politeness: Some Universals in Language Usage, American culture is solidarity-based – which means that it is based on creating a sense of equality and belonging. It is because of this that Americans seek to find a way to compliment each other for very basic things – to form bonds and a sense of belonging.

Additionally, in 1981, Nessa Wolfson published a study on the use of compliments in various cultures, and her assessment of American complimenting culture, where compliments are “as cheap as chips,” was that “the most striking feature of compliments in American English is their total lack of originality.” 

Wolfson wrote that 23% of American compliments include the word “nice,” 20% include “good,” and 54% follow the pattern: “noun/phrase is/looks (really) adjective.”

“… say that we’re good.”

In February 2015 Reimund Neugebauer was interviewed. He is the Head of the Fraunhofer Institutes in Germany: 66 research locations, 24,000 employees and an annual budget of 2 billion Euros.

Neugebauer was asked whether German technical and industrial innovation was weakening. His response: Not at all. Germany’s innovativeness secures the country’s prosperity. Fifty percent of all so-called hidden champions (little-known global market leaders in their fields) are located in Germany. Mittelstand companies, said Neugebauer, are simply very modest.

Neugebauer recalled giving a speech at a company anniversary and deservedly praised the firm. “After me, the owner took the stage and said he felt like clarifying something, saying that the company was just one of many and that everyone in the room was good at what they did. 

He was worried that the praise would not be well received. That’s so typical! In a way, I like this modesty, too. But we also have to be able to say that we’re good. Germany wouldn’t be the world’s No. 1 exporter of research-intensive goods if we had constantly missed the boat on innovations.”

Praise properly

The February 2015 edition of the magazine Deutsch Perfekt, published by Spotlight, whose target audience consists of people interested in learning German, contained an article dedicated to the topic of praise in the workplace:

“Praising appropriately: It is clear that praise is an important aspect of a team which works together well. So how can one give more praise in the German everyday workplace, and still be taken seriously?

In Germany, praise is something special. Great praise is not given for small deeds. Positive feedback is only given when something was truly good – differently from many other cultures.

Many foreign co-workers quickly become aware of how little praise is given during everyday life in Germany. What is interesting, however, is that the majority of Germans who were surveyed also stated that they received too little praise at their place of work.

However, if too much praise is given, the one being praised can quickly becomes distrustful of the statements. If Germans are not themselves convinced that they have done something special, but still receive praise, it is not credible to them. In such cases, Germans will simply not take the praise seriously.

For this reason you should formulate your praise precisely: What was good? Why did you like it? Praise (like criticism) should always be concrete and specific. In this way, it becomes more understandable to the recipient.”

More praise, please!

An international employee survey by the Geva-Institute of Munich from 2009 demonstrated the differences by country in the expectations of employees from their supervisors.

80% of German employees expected their boss to be good at making decisions and able to execute their plans.

Besides this, German employees prefer to take responsibility for their own work. Accordingly, three out of four people who were surveyed stated that a supervisor should provide enough freedom to their employees with regard to making their own decisions and taking action.

Nevertheless, the typical German office could use some more dolling out of praise: only half of German employees felt that their work is sufficiently appreciated.

Fruits of the Labors

The Germans value being self-critical. Inflated, positive feedback threatens self-critique, threatens one‘s ability to identify and learn from mistakes and weaknesses. Germans prefer that their work results speak for themself. They value the quiet, focused worker who is not easily distracted by comments about their performance.

Studies, though, document that this ideal is not always in the best interest of employees and their companies. More than half of all German managers and subject-area experts feel that they deserve more praise. Only a quarter are satisfied with the current level of positive feedback. 14% responded that they receive no praise at all for their work. Only 3% stated that they need any additional praise.

Strengthen their bond

hralliancedc(dot)org. January 21, 2015. A blogpost: Feedback: Its All Personal and Why That Matters

Performance Reviews. “There aren’t many scheduled professional activities that can generate such an array of feelings for managers and employees alike…. Regardless of how one feels prior to and after receiving feedback, one thing is certain: Feedback is always personal.

Conventional wisdom and typical management training try to remove the personal aspect of feedback, even encouraging us to not take feedback personally. Nothing could be further from the truth. 

Done well, the performance review is an opportunity for the manager and the employee to strengthen their bond, to commit to working on themselves individually and together, to continue to strive toward desired results. 

Fail Fast, Fail Often

“Fail Fast, Fail Often, Fail Everywhere”. By John Donohue. The New Yorker. May 31, 2015.

“Discussions about failure may come more easily in America in part because our businesspeople are so good at it. The failure rate for startups, using a yardstick in which investors lose everything (i.e., all of the company’s assets are liquidated), is between thirty and forty per cent, according to Shikhar Ghosh, a senior lecturer at Harvard Business School. 

The rate is seventy to eighty per cent if failure is defined as not meeting the projected return on investment, and ninety to ninety-five per cent if it is measured by failing to beat a declared projection.

Despite these statistics, Americans remain remarkably optimistic about the process—last year, venture-capital companies staked forty-eight billion dollars in pursuit of big returns. And the fact that these investments are concentrated in a relatively small number of companies has not seemed to inspire much fear in prospective entrepreneurs. 

According to a study done by the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, a project run by Babson College and the London Business School, in 2014 among respondents between the ages of eighteen and sixty-four who were not already running their own businesses, just thirty per cent reported that fear of failure would stop them from starting one. 

And more than half of those Americans surveyed believed that there are good opportunities to strike out on one’s own.

Citizens exposed

Towards the end of 2014, the German Postbank conducted a study with the goal of identifying the good policies which Germans enforce with regard to their financial matters. The results were summarized in article titled When it comes to money, Germans are bureaucrats who are afraid to take risks:

“Like a pillar of economic wisdom, the desire to have a higher income looms above all other factors. The remaining results are actually more reflective of the ‘financial illiteracy’, which the Germans are already often credited with.

In this way, the study exposed the citizens as being fearful bureaucrats, who above all just want to increase their personal wealth through taxation, saving, and maintaining better control of their finances, rather than earn money through smart investing, or saving for retirement.”

Risikoscheu – A fear of risks: The attribute of a decision-maker to prefer the path of lesser risk – and thereby most minimal loss – when confronted with several alternatives which have an equal anticipated gain. This may mean waiting longer for the same reward, or even settling for a lesser gain, if the chances are greater that it will be received.

Sweaty Palms

There has been a lot of research on the benefits of trusting intuition.

In a study conducted in 1997, researchers asked subjects to play a card game in which the goal was to win the most money. The subjects chose cards from two piles, one of which was rigged to provide big wins followed by big losses, while the other deck provided small wins but almost no losses.

On average it took about 80 cards before the subjects could identify which deck was which. However, after about 50 cards they claimed that they “had a hunch about which deck was safer” and after only 10 cards the sweat glands on the subjects’ palms would open every time that they reached for the big wins/losses deck.


According to a survey conducted in 2015, even though almost 80% of Americans consider themselves patient, a vast majority of them behave in ways that display incredible impatience. For example, 96% of Americans will consume food/drink that they know is hot enough to burn them rather than wait for it to cool. Additionally, 71% frequently exceed the speed limit and more than 50% won’t wait on hold for more than one minute.