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Americans are different

Ian McMaster ist Chefredakteur von Business Spotlight
Wenn Deutsche über US-Amerikaner reden, dann holen sie gern die gängigen Klischees aus der Mottenkiste: Amis seien hemdsärmlig, oberflächlich und im Geschäftsleben eher unstrukturiert. Ian McMaster ist zwar kein Amerikaner, sondern Engländer, aber er muss da mal was klarstellen.
Herman the German: What is the best way to do business with people from the United States?

Ian McMaster: The same way you would do business with anyone else: with intelligence, sensitivity, politeness and honesty.

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Is that all youŽve got to say?

Not quite, but it is a good start.

But surely, Americans are different. They have different working practices, customs and expectations. I mean, they have a different culture. TheyŽre ... theyŽre just different.

YouŽre right. They are different, from each other. They come from different national backgrounds (the ?melting pot") and 50 different states. They have different religions and political views. They work in different industries, companies and departments. In short, they are all individuals and should be treated as such, with intelligence ...

Yes, yes, you said that before. But you know thatŽs not what I meant. I meant that they are different from us Germans. For example, Americans like lots of small talk before getting down to business, and they all use first names all the time.

Careful with those generalisations: "Americans like ..."; "They all ...". DoesnŽt seem as though you really took in my last point at all. Also, may I point out that the term "Americans" covers everyone from Canada to Chile. But letŽs not split hairs: I assume you are talking about people from the United States. We usually refer to them simply as Americans.

OK, smartarse, so do US Americans like small talk or do they not?

You mean "smartass" in American English. Well, yes, in general it is normal to take time to make small talk before getting down to business. But how long this should be will vary from situation to situation. There is no substitute for being sensitive to your business partner. And donŽt forget the most important saying in American business life ?

Time is money?

Indeed. WeŽre making progress at last. American businesspeople tend - and thatŽs a word you should add to your vocabulary immediately if you are going to talk about cultural differences - to be result-focussed, goal-oriented. And this tends to mean getting to the point as soon as possible, taking decisions, and moving on to the next issue. This is summed up nicely by the Nike slogan: Just do it!

How does that fit in with taking time for small talk?

Small talk is about creating relationships and developing trust. From this basis, deals can be done quickly and efficiently. Some experts argue that Americans tend to put a lot of emphasis on social recognition: if youŽre liked, youŽre successful; and if youŽre successful, youŽre liked. This may also explain why Americans like to give positive feedback at work.

Yes, I have noticed that. Now what about the issue of using first names, Dr. McMaster?

Oh, please call me Ian. You see, itŽs really not that difficult. If you start by using your business partnerŽs family name, he or she will probably suggest that you use first names. But remember: first names are not the same as "Du". You have not suddenly become best friends - not even if your business partners invite you to their homes or offer to lend you their cars, which you surely would not do to anyone except your closest friends.

I often have the feeling that Americans work in a rather chaotic manner, with lots of brainstorming and trial and error, rather than having detailed, structured plans.

And Americans tend to see Germans as over-bureaucratic, inflexible, obsessed with details, over-critical and not good at working as a team. CŽest la vie. Deal with it!

But how? Should I adapt by becoming more American?

Careful! There is a danger of "reverse inadaptation": you start behaving like your idea of the "typical" American and your American colleagues like their idea of the "typical" German. This would be like you wearing a ten-gallon hat and an American wearing Lederhosen. You both look and feel ridiculous. A better approach is to become more aware of differences in business styles and to react more sensitively to them.

Very helpful. IsnŽt there a good book?

Yes, an excellent one: "Geschäftlich in den USA", by Günter Stahl et al. (Überreuter, 18,90 Euro). It contains lots of fascinating cases of misunderstandings that have been analysed by American and German managers.

Hey, thanks. YouŽre welcome.

Have a nice day, now!
Dieser Artikel ist erschienen am 18.03.2002