Aside from the language barrier, international cooperations are full of opportunities to make a blunder. Social, religious and ethnic differences are not always apparent at first, often only coming to the fore in a conflict. If you aim to shine on the international stage with its global economic interdependence, it is immensely important you have a profound knowledge of both your own culture and that of your business partner. Even more importantly, you must know how they differ!

Germans often underestimate the differences, particularly when working with American colleagues. They assume the American culture is essentially the same as the German, especially since over the past decades the German business world has been powerfully influenced by, for example, American management theories. The differences are greater than many think, as the above examples illustrate. It is common practice in Germany to discuss problems together as a team, arriving at a decision by consensus.

In the States, a team is also able to offer suggestions, possibly receiving encouraging comments from their supervisor (sounds good), but the decision is made topdown without seeking the team’s approval. Uninformed German employees will quickly take offense as they assume the flat hierarchies commonly practiced in the States automatically imply democratic decision-making.

They don’t. Also, in Germany, a general agreement reached after lengthy discussion processes is rarely questioned or modified. In contrast, rapid, flexible decisions are preferred in the States, following the maxim any decision is better than no decision.[1] This decision can be modified at any time should the situation change or new arguments arise. The essence of classic U.S. American management culture can be […] summed up in two words: Strong leadership. Climbing the corporate ladder in classic U.S. companies requires the ability to make fast and unambiguous decisions. It may turn out that of two decisions both are wrong, but that’s better than hesitating.[2] 

An excerpt from the book “Leadership is More – 27 Questions We Too Can Answer” written by Gianni, Jan & Marcello Liscia, 2022

[1] Cf. Harvard Business Review, Being the Boss in Brussels, Boston, and Beijing, published July/August 2017.

[2], USA: Warum eine Karriere in den USA für Deutsche so schwierig ist/ Why Germans have a hard time making a career in the USA, published April 16, 2020.

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