Manager as Neutral Party

German team leads have an impersonal, business-like relationship with their team members. They maintain emotional distance from the team in order to guaranty neutrality and fairness. Especially when providing feedback on performance do they focus on results and not on the person.

This sachlich – impersonal, neutral, business-like – approach can be observed in the personal interaction between manager and team. When providing feedback German team leads are reserved, unemotional, their body language limited to a handshake. Neutrality is the key.

Whether discussing past performance or formulating new goals, the Germans focus on the facts, ideally on what is measurable. A discussion about development addresses professional skills and less so personal development. Critique is communicated in a respectful and serious way. Humour is considered disrespectful and unprofessional.

If the feedback discussion includes criticism, German managers strive to be particularly neutral, unemotional, fact-oriented. This reduces the potential for an escalation of emotions. The two parties should focus on performance. The discussion is impersonal and objective.

The Godfather

The book The Godfather was written by Mario Puzo and published in 1969. The story, which was later made into a trilogy of movies, focuses largely on the business and personal lives of an Italian mafia family living in New York. Some of the most famous quotes about the blending of business and personal include:

“Tom, don’t let anybody kid you. It’s all personal, every bit of business. Every piece of shit every man has to eat every day of his life is personal. They call it business. Ok. But it’s personal as hell.

You know where I learned that from? The Don. My old man. The Godfather. If a bolt of lightning hit a friend of his, the old man would take it personal. He took my going into the Marines personal. That’s what makes him great. The Great Don. He takes everything personal like God.

He knows every feather that falls from the tail of a sparrow or however the hell it goes. Right? And you know something? Accidents don’t happen to people who take accidents as a personal insult.

He had long ago learned that society imposes insults that must be borne, comforted by the knowledge that in this world there comes a time when the most humble of men, if he keeps his eyes open, can take his revenge on the most powerful.

It was this knowledge that prevented the Don from losing the humility all his friends admired in him. When they come … they come at what you love. They made it personal when they shot Pop. It is not business, it’s personal.”

„Only fools criticize“

In his book How to Win Friends and Influence People (published in 1936 with more than fifteen million copies) the famous American businessman Dale Carnegie made the following statements which have been taken to heart by generations of Americans:

“Criticism is dangerous, because it wounds a person’s precious pride, hurts his sense of importance and arouses resentment.”

“Any fool can criticize, complain, and condemn—and most fools do. But it takes character and self-control to be understanding and forgiving.”

“If you argue and rankle and contradict, you may achieve a victory sometimes; but it will be an empty victory because you will never get your opponent’s good will.”

“You can’t win an argument. You can’t because if you lose it, you lose it; and if you win it, you lose it.”

“I have come to the conclusion that there is only one way under high heaven to get the best of an argument — and that is to avoid it. Avoid it as you would avoid rattlesnakes and earthquakes.”

“By fighting you never get enough, but by yielding you get more than you expected.”

The Office

The hit TV series The Office, which originated in the UK, now exists in nine different versions adapted to the individual languages and tastes of the American, French, German, French Canadian, Chilean, Swedish, and Israeli people as well. The U.S. and German versions are by far the most successful and longest running of the lot.

That a mockumentary show about everyday office life should have to be adapted so many times to fit tastes across cultures, in spite of keeping a similar structure, set of characters, and setting speaks volumes about the importance of minor cultural differences in such a mundane setting.

Here, in broad strokes, are some of the chief differences. In the British version, nobody is working, nobody has a happy relationship, everyone looks terrible, and everybody is depressed.

In the French version, nobody is working but even the idiots look good, and everybody seems possessed of an intriguing private life. In the German version, actual work is visibly being done, and most of the staff is coupled up.

The American version most clearly shows the staff typically working, and places emphasis on their relationships outside of the office, highlighting the reality that many of them have relatively strong relationships outside of the workplace as well. Especially clear are the tactics of Michael Scott to be the best friend of everyone in the office, in spite of being their boss and having to make the tough decisions which don’t make everyone happy.


His German counterpart, Berndt Stromberg, also seems to value the attention of his employees over his actual tasks, but clearly does not want to be everybody’s friend.

Reputations ruined

One reason why Americans take criticism so personally is the importance they place on public perception. Reputation, especially in business, is a very sensitive issue. It can be damaged quickly, and often irreparably, by criticism.

The public relations sector has been thriving in the American economy for generations. And in the digital age companies such as reputation(dot)com focus solely on helping companies (and individuals) to protect their reputations.

Warren Buffett, called the Wizard of Omaha and the Oracle of Omaha, and considered the greatest American investor, once said “It takes twenty years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.”

Roger Boisjoly, an engineer at NASA during the Challenger space shuttle disaster, suspected that the explosion would occur. He tried to warn his superiors, but was ignored. During the investigation he was very forthcoming about what went wrong and whose fault it was, damaging many the reputation of many colleagues and superiors.

Even though he had fought to keep the disaster from happening, by ruining those reputations he damaged his own. Boisjoly received such horrible treatment at work that he eventually quit. Because he had a reputation as a reputation destroyer he couldn’t find another engineering position. Instead, he worked as a speaker on workplace ethics, teaching Americans how to avoid his mistakes and point out problems in a work environment without hurting reputations.

Gothic horror author Anne Rice

Just as Germans are inclined to have more respect for the reviewer if there are some critical remarks posted under an overall good review, there are some Americans who simply cannot handle the criticism even when it is in their own interest to do so.

For example, gothic horror author Anne Rice has never been one to take criticism lightly. Although her Novel Blood Canticle received a five-star review on, which could only encourage readers to buy it, she lashed out at all of the negative comments posted below it by individual readers in a 1,200-word diatribe post.

Her claims were that her readers were “interrogating [the book] from the wrong perspective.” Aside from calling them “arrogant and stupid,” she also took time to personally target specific reviewers who had made harsher statements such as:

“Anne, you really should have an editor” (In fact, the book does contain a few grammatical errors). Then, she provided a spoiler description of the novel along with a commentary on exactly how brilliant it really was.

Colleagues and friends

Differences in the workplace environment can be reflected in the sorts of extra-workplace relationships that develop between co-workers. Company policies aside, of course. Two recent independent surveys of couples in Germany and the U.S. yielded the results that 24.5% of U.S. couples met their partner at work, while in Germany this number lies at only 12%. However, the most common way in which couples met was the same for both countries: through friends.

Colleague, not Facebook friend

In 2010 the online-career portal conducted a study regarding German behavior in social online networks. 61% of people said that they are not friends with their colleagues via social media.

Only 27% indicated that they talk to their colleagues on Facebook. 12% of the survey participants are friends with their colleagues on Facebook. However, most have different profile settings for colleagues. The survey results suggest that Germans separate their private life and their professional life.

Be careful what you say

Sony Pictures Entertainment has been under intense heat following an email hacking scandal that was exposed near the end of 2014. This scandal also revealed some underlying tensions between employees and some very famous celebrities.

The employees reportedly did not want to work with certain stars because they found them to be “minimally talented.” These jabs, although indirect, could later influence the possibility of the two parties working together.

This type of behavior backfired on the employees in question, as they later stepped down from their position. To alienate potential clients based on personal feelings diminishes the potential of a company.

Obama all net

On June 22, 2015 Juli Hirschfeld Davis authored an article in the New York Times under the title “Obama Lowers His Guard in Unusual Displays of Emotion.”

“His eyes well up without warning in private, thinking about his teenage daughters growing up. He choked back tears in public recently while delivering the eulogy for Beau Biden, the son of Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., who died at 46.”

“My takeaway was, ‘Wow — where’s this guy been?’” said Kent Conrad, a former Democratic senator from North Dakota. “I turned to my wife and said, ‘My God, if he’d shown those kinds of feelings, and that kind of connection to others, I think he would have had a different experience as president,’ ” Mr. Conrad said. “If he could let himself show that, he would do much better with the American people, and much better with Congress.”

Days earlier, Mr. Obama had begun a health care speech with an uncommonly intimate greeting for Sister Carol Keehan, the chief executive of the Catholic Health Association of the United States and a political ally.

But even Mr. Obama has admitted that he has been blindsided recently by fits of sadness, many of them prompted by the thought of his daughters growing up. “I start tearing up in the middle of the day and I can’t explain it,” Mr. Obama told attendees at an Easter prayer breakfast in April. “Why am I so sad? They’re leaving me.”

He wiped away tears in February as he bade farewell to Eric H. Holder Jr., a confidant who served for six years as his attorney general. People close to the president say he is often unfairly tagged as apathetic simply because he does not carry on publicly about his feelings.

“This is, in many ways, a private man — he is not somebody who wears his emotions on his sleeve,” Mr. Connolly said of Mr. Obama. “That doesn’t mean he doesn’t have emotions.”

Germans don’t wear their emotions on their sleeves, either.