Beraten vs. Dienen

The Germans use the word service very often, and in many different situations. But, service is not native to the German language. The German equivalent for service is dienen. And the word dienen can be traced back as far as the 8th century. At its root dienen was in connection with Läufer (runner), Bote (messenger) or Knecht (farm laborer or servant). Dienen means simply to be helpful or to be useful. 

But, it also means (and is often felt by Germans to mean) service in the sense of servitude, subjugation or subordination of one person to another person, to the one served, assisted or helped. Especially if one is serving exclusively the individual needs, wishes or interests of another person, one can feel a loss of independence and autonomy. One is captive, no longer free. 

However, if a common goal or common purpose is being served, something for the good of all, then serving is understood as positive. This might provide an indication for why contemporary Germans avoid using the term dienen, and prefer the English word service, or a combination of a German and an English term (i.e. Kundenservice = customer service).

The German term beraten, on the other hand, means to give someone advice about what they should do. The root is Rat, which means counsel. To beraten with another means to discuss and consider together, to hold council on a specific issue, situation or problem. A Berater is a consultant. 

The original definition of beraten means to take precautions, in the sense of food and provisions in a household: Hausrat (household things), Vorrat (supply, reserve, stock), Gerät (tool, utensil, appliance, device). Beraten (to give advice, to consult) is oriented, therefore, towards a future action, something to be done. Beraten serves the purpose of preparing someone for a future or possible situation. 

Gracious. Helpful. Selfless.

The English term service implies graciousness, helpfulness and to a degree selflessness. To serve is to be humble. Serve stems from the Latin word servitium, which meant the condition of a slave. Service, at its roots involves one person serving another or several. It is inherently personal. The term service in the context of American business involves the notion of servitium, to respond to the needs of your customer, to serve that customer personally and individually.

But service also anticipates compensation: payment, customer loyalty, growth of the business. Service is both personal and commercial. They go hand-in-hand. Impersonal service seldom leads to commercial success. Personal service without fair compensation is servitude. And, indeed, some business relationships are so one-sided that the one serving feels more like a slave than a free person.

To consult means to seek advice, to refer to, to take into account, to consider, as one would consult an attorney or a physician. To consult also means to exchange views, to confer. As with service the term consult has its roots in Latin: consultare, meaning to deliberate, counsel, consult or take counsel. To consult means to advise, to recommend, to suggest, to provide an opinion about what could or should be done in a certain situation or in response to a certain problem. 

The consultant, therefore, is the expert applying their knowledge and expertise to improve the situation of a customer. But, essential to consulting a client is understanding their needs, their situation. This is done by first consulting with, meaning listening to that customer.


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)


1. Non-elected government officials. Administrative policy-making group. 2. Specialization of functions, adherence to fixed rules, hierarchy of authority. 3.A system of administration marked by officialism, red-tape and proliferation. From French bureaucratie: bureau desk and –cratie a kind of government. (MerriamWebster)

Constant Info Flow

Information: For a close collaborative effort between customer and supplier (consultant, vendor, etc.) to function effectively in the American business context a high level of communication between the two parties is essential. 

Information flow is guaranteed via short-term feedback between customer and supplier during the entire business relationship. This allow customers to modify their requests depending on changing situations.

Responsibility for Results

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.


Collaboration: To work jointly with others or together especially in an intellectual endeavor; to cooperate with or willingly assist an enemy of one’s country and especially an occupying force; to cooperate with an agency or instrumentality with which one is not immediately connected. From Latin com- together + laborare to labor.

Input: Something that is put in; power or energy put into a machine or system for storage, conversion in kind, or conversion of characteristics usually with the intent of sizable recovery in the form of output; a component of production such as land, labor, or raw materials; information fed into a data processing system or computer; the means by which or the point at which an input (as of energy, material, or data) is made; the act or process of putting in.

Accountable: Subject to giving an account, answerable; capable of being accounted for; explainable.

Fine Line

To serve the customer is to deliver what the customer has ordered. No more, no less. Quickly. Precisely. Fulfilling the order. Full. Filled. Unless asked, a waiter does not discuss with the customers the wisdom of their choice from the menu.

To consult the customer is to enter into the decision making process, to co-discuss, to co-think. To discuss with, think with. Perhaps initially just as a sounding board. Then later as a provider of information, input, advice. At the highest level, acting independently, but in the spirit of the customer’s wishes.

Stages. From order-taker all the way to co-thinker and co-decider. Grades. Gradations. Graduation. Gradual. From serving to partnering with. And there is a fine line between each phase, at each transition.

If the lines are identified, understood and managed (walked carefully), the collaborator is graduated, “makes the grade.” If misidentified, misunderstood, therefore mismanaged, the collaborator is not graduated. The business relationship might be terminated.


Mandate. Latin mandatum, task, job, order to do something for another; to represent another legally; an elected office to represent the voters.

A mandate is a broadly defined task where the service provider – consultant, attorney, architect, subject area expert – advises the client. The business relationship is not made up of small, individual tasks.

Instead, the service provider – the person who has been granted the mandate – serves, represents, and advises the client in a complex area involving many different kinds of issues and interactions.

Attorneys represent their clients in legal matters. Political office holders represent their voters. A mandate obligates the adviser to act in the interest of the client even without the client‘s expressed permission.

More than Just Business

A mandate is a serious matter in Germany. The client needs to think through and research carefully, which service providers are not only capable, but more importantly trustworthy.

Even though German law strictly defines the relationship between for examply an attorney or tax advisor and the client, the German client seeks a kind of special relationship over the long term, similar to one between a physician and a patient. For the German client its a matter of discretion.

And even when the advisor has significant decision making latitude, there is nonetheless constant dialogue and collaboration between the two parties. This is more than a typical business relationship. It is both business and personal. It is about representing the interests of the client in complex matters.

Both parties need to respect each other at a deeper level. They must be convinced that they can work together. Any kind of misunderstanding can lead to a difference of opinions, which potentially can allow mistrust to seep into the working relationship.

A political mandate is different. Although the office holder focuses on serving the interests of the voters, there is no personal relationship between them. The voters have to demand transparency in order to fully trust their elected office holder.

And because office holders have to represent the interests of many kinds of voters, there is a certain natural level of mistrust over and against her or him. If voters are dissatisfied, or have lost trust in the office holder, the political system enables them to end the relationship.

Taking on a mandate is a complex and delicate matter in Germany. In business as well as in politics.