Q+A: Getting that German-Yes


“Before making a commitment, before giving a yes, our German colleagues like as much clarity as possible up-front. However, developing opportunities in the U.S. business context is an on-going, interative process together with the customer. The goal is to understand and define their needs.

In other words, the nature of the commitments with the customer can change during the process of iteration. Add to this the American inclination — and it is a shared logic among both customers and suppliers in the U.S. — to take a “Yes, let’s give it a try” approach.

How can we get the two logics to work together in order to serve the customer?”

John Otto Magee

The question imbedded in the question above is the following:

Entering into commitments in the American business context is an on-going, iterative process. Americans, both customers and suppliers, reserve the right to at any time back out of a commitment at any stage.

This is why an iterative approach is taken. Iteration — moving in smaller, incremental steps — allows for flexibility, for changing direction, for adjusting to changing parameters. In the American culture there is seldom such a thing as a commitment written in stone.

This is why a high level of communication between customer and supplier is critical to the success of that relationship. Both parties are operating in a dynamic environment with all sorts of factors over which they have little or no control.

There is no getting around this reality. It is in the air that Americans breath. No German, or any other culture’s, approach will change it. Nor should it be changed. It is the American approach and it works well for them.

Key will be, as always, to help the German colleagues to understand this deeper-lying logic in the U.S. You have no other choice than to take the time to explain the American logic to them.

Once they have understood that logic, or at least are open to its legitimacy, you need to then discuss with them a joint response. Define together, on a case by case basis, how you together interate with customers, and how you will then iterate as colleagues across the Atlantic.

If you and your German colleagues have a common understanding of the cultural differences between Germans and Americans regarding agreements, information needs, whether up-front or iterative, then you can work out the details.

Accept the German need to have a lot of information up-front. Don’t fight their logic. Work with it. For example, break down commitments into micro-commitments. Then ask your German colleagues what information they need up-front in order to commit to an early-stage piece of a commitment.

In other words, break down a larger commitment into pieces or stages. Then move, together with your German colleagues, stage for stage. Do not be shy about asking them what kinds of information are critical vs. nice-to-have.

A final point:

Germans do not feel comfortable with the American “Yes, let’s give it a try” approach. In fact, learning-by-doing is viewed negatively in Germany. To Germans it’s a sign of not having learned something, not being trained properly, taking unnecessary risk, making things up as you go along, poor planning.

You need to explain to your German colleagues the following key points regarding learning-by-doing: First: in many situations there is no other choice but to experiment. Second: often the risk, the downside, of learning-by-doing is minimal.

Third: American customers, as Americans, feel comfortable with learning-by-doing. It has led to positive results for them. They learn important things. Which often has made the efforts very worthwhile.


John Otto Magee makes sure that American and German colleagues understand each other at www.contrastingcultures.com

Originally published at https://www.linkedin.com.




I am an American. 25+ years in Germany. I explain cultural differences. Between Americans and Germans. So that their collaboration succeeds.

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John Otto Magee

John Otto Magee

I am an American. 25+ years in Germany. I explain cultural differences. Between Americans and Germans. So that their collaboration succeeds.

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