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Posted byWorld1 month ago

Where Germans systematize, Americans break down-The complexities of working in Germany as an English speaker.

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WorldOriginal Poster14 points · 1 month ago · edited 1 month ago

a copy of the article below....

Germans think systematically. They formulate their understanding of a decision to be made in a very broad and interconnected context. Therefore Germans do not always consider it helpful to take complexity and, as Americans say, “break it down” into its component parts. They aim to do the opposite, to see particulars in their interrelationships. They look for patterns, strive to understand complexity as a whole, as a system.

That’s one reason why Germans spend a lot of time debating Fragestellung – literally, the way the question is formulated. This is the definition of the matter to be addressed. Before Germans make a decision, they expend great effort into first being sure that they agree on the decision to be made. So they engage in a discussion upfront: What is the nature of this decision? What are its implications for other areas of our work? Are we addressing the right question? Are we in agreement about what decision we are making?

This German yearning to understand the system as a whole is baked into the language. When a German gets confused, he or she says: Ich habe den Überblick verloren, literally: “I have lost overview”, or “I can no longer take in the complexity from one elevated vantage”. Germans place supreme value on Überblick (overview), on understanding a system as a whole.

The next step after Überblick is Durchblick, or “through-view”. Somebody who has graduated from having an overview to also having “through-view” truly know knows what he or she is talking about, and understands both the details and the big picture. But while such an expert “looks through” a subject, he still maintains Umsicht, a “view around” at all tangential topics. This is a cautionary principle to mitigate risk.

Americans rarely engage in such Germanic discussions about the systematics of a decision at hand. They talk instead about who or what is served by a good decision. They “break down” complexity into its component parts, on the premise that this leads them to what is essential.

This American habit of breaking things down is already instilled in grammar school. In English Composition, American children are taught to write short, simple and clear sentences ordered in a logical sequence. Good composition avoids sentences with complex grammatical twists and turns, of the sort that are standard in German. The goals are simplicity and clarity.

Ernest Hemingway, considered one of America’s greatest writers, shied away from convolution in grammar and style. He never used big words or complicated sentences, yet he succeeded in painting vivid images. German diction, by contrast, sounds to an American as Mark Twain put it: “Whenever the literary German dives into a sentence, that is the last you are going to see of him till he emerges on the other side of his Atlantic with his verb in his mouth.”

This difference goes beyond style. Americans do not engage in lengthy discussions about the essence of a decision to be made. Their approach to all decisions is primarily motivated by pragmatism. Decisions lead to actions, which in turn lead to further decisions to be made. Americans avoid getting weighted down in what they view as over-analysis.

So Germans see Americans as moving through the decision-making process impatiently, without having thought through the complexity of the issue. Americans think that Germans consider too many factors not directly relevant to the decision, thus wasting time and momentum.

This situation can become unhealthy and self-defeating. Each side is determined to get its way, to have the say. Unfortunately, neither recognizes what lies at the heart of their battle. Both want their fundamental approach to making decisions to become universal for the company. All involved are aware of the negative effects on the organization. Decisions, even routine ones, begin to demand far too much time. Teams begin to work against, instead of with, each other. Each side suspects the other of political maneuvering.

But, wait! It doesn’t have to be this way. The inherent strengths in how Americans and Germans make decisions can be understood and combined. Germans should remain systematic in their approach. It’s one of their strengths. At the same time they should try to become more pragmatic, and sometimes narrow the scope.

The Americans, meanwhile, need to engage with their German colleagues in their seemingly philosophical discussion about the nature of the decision to be made. They may find a broader perspective to be of value. Once the Americans are full participants in such a discussion, they can influence the decisions from the beginning. And they should never forfeit one of their great strengths: the ability to break complexity down, or what the Germans awkwardly translate as herunterbrechen......

level 2
[deleted]
6 points · 1 month ago · edited 1 month ago
Ernest Hemingway, considered one of America’s greatest writers, shied  away from convolution in grammar and style. He never used big words or  complicated sentences, yet he succeeded in painting vivid images.

And David Foster Wallace, another one of America's greatest writers, writes absolutely convoluted, complex, and idiomatic English.

level 2
Germany2 points · 1 month ago

Decisions lead to actions, which in turn lead to further decisions to be made. Americans avoid getting weighted down in what they view as over-analysis.

Translation: Let's half-ass this thing without understanding it. And when that turns out to be shit, we just iterate on it until it's not obviously broken any more, just subtly broken. I'll never understand how this mentality could breed people like Donald Knuth.

level 3
[deleted]
10 points · 1 month ago
I'll never understand how this mentality could breed people like Donald Knuth.

It's because you're literally doing the exact thing that your disbelief stems from, i.e. "Let's half-ass this thing without understanding it.". You're half-assing your understanding of the article and not realizing that it's actually a pile of pedantic bullshit.

Sure, there are cultural differences, but there is no process that is ingrained through the educational systems of either country or some related bullshit. Some Germans are hasty, some like a big picture of whatever it is they're working on, and the same is true for Americans.

This idiot author is just craftily creating a divide that doesn't exist so stupid managers of companies with German and American employees can hire him and he can profit off of it.

And to suggest that whatever bullshit ideas that the article is spewing makes impossible intelligent, systematic Americans like Donald Knuth is beyond gullible and beyond stupid.

I get that this subreddit loves to hate on Americans and relishes creating as much distance from them as possible, but to buy into this drivel is fucking laughable.

level 4
Germany3 points · 1 month ago

Hmm, yes, well put.

level 4
Franken1 point · 1 month ago

This is exactly the same faux-expert writing style infesting all business journals. They prey on the fact that most MBA's are essentially stupid and fail to question the premise.

level 3
Germany3 points · 1 month ago

Iteration can yield perfection, not starting to do anything just yields stagnancy.

I agree that a lot of people don't think enough about what they are trying to do. On the other hand I've seen long winded discussions in German companies that are irrelevant to the end product and should have been avoided.

level 4
Germany2 points · 1 month ago

Not disagreeing there. I'm just a little salty because I had to nag a coworker for the last two weeks to get me the specs I need because of exactly this half-assing - and he's German.

level 1

As someone who works for an American company that engages with German clients on complex projects, I've seen this first-hand.

level 2

Me too, every day, working in an US company, in the cooperation of the US and the German offices.

level 1

Ernest Hemingway, considered one of America’s greatest writers, shied away from convolution in grammar and style. He never used big words or complicated sentences, yet he succeeded in painting vivid images.

Just like Hermann Hesse.

German diction, by contrast, sounds to an American as Mark Twain put it: “Whenever the literary German dives into a sentence, that is the last you are going to see of him till he emerges on the other side of his Atlantic with his verb in his mouth.”

Twain was making fun of the linguistic structure of the German language. This structure has been more or less intact for around 700 years. You cannot possibly believe that German grammar has anything to do with the perceived way modern Germans tackle complex challenges.

I didn't read the entire article, but just by glancing through it seems the article is mostly bs.

level 2
Bayern5 points · 1 month ago

Any article that attempts to claim that people's thought patterns are closely linked to the way a language is formulated is probably bullshit. Obviously there might be cultural differences, but explaining them away with cherry-picked linguistic examples by someone without a PhD in linguistics is ridiculous.

Also, from https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linguistic_relativity

Currently, a balanced view of linguistic relativity is espoused by most linguists holding that language influences certain kinds of cognitive processes in non-trivial ways, but that other processes are better seen as arising from connectionist factors.

level 3

Non-Mobile link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linguistic_relativity


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level 1
Schleswig-Holstein2 points · 1 month ago

neat, this should be linked in the wiki.

level 1
Netherlands0 points · 1 month ago

This is why for instance the German government talks for years about change/digital projects and by the time they get started their very premise is long outdated.

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