The paper discusses the basic differences existing between German social culture and business behavior and American ones. At the beginning the influence of social culture on business behavior are discussed and it is underlined that they really make difference between various nations. The further and the main part of the work is dedicated to the discussion of differences between German and American culture and business behavior formed by specific cultural traditions.
Social culture and traditions are extremely important for all people and they produce a significant impact on practically all spheres of human life, including business. At first glance there is no links between national culture and such a pragmatic and to a certain extent universal notion as business. Business is a very specific sphere of human activities where people have their own rules and regulations sometimes different from what they get socially used to but nonetheless social and cultural traditions are still quite a strong tool that often defines the image of either a businessman, or a company, or even the whole industry of a country. For instance, Germany, being one of the leading and the most developed countries in the world, has its particular cultural traditions that influenced the development of business behavior in the country in quite a different way from other countries, such as the US, and which make Germans Germans despite all the processes of globalization that nowadays take place in the world and which threaten to national uniqueness and national identity.
This is why the knowledge of national culture and social behavior is crucial for starting business in any country, especially in such a country as Germany, which has centuries of old traditions and habits and some of them are still relevant today.
The impact of social culture on business behavior
Before speaking in details about the socio-cultural characteristics of Germans influencing their business behavior it is necessary to say a few words about culture-business interdependence at large. Firstly it should be said that there is no unanimous definition of such a notion as culture. Traditionally there may be defined several characteristics which are applied to the notion of culture, namely they are as follows: 1) culture includes system of values; 2) culture is learned not innate; 3) culture distinguishes one group from another; 4) culture influences beliefs, attitudes, perception and behavior in somewhat uniform and predictable ways (Fisher, 1997).
On analyzing these characteristics, it becomes clear why social culture influences business behavior and makes representatives of different nations unique in their social and business behavior. To put it more precisely, it is obvious that each nation has its own system of traditional values and despite the existence of some universal humanistic ideals the difference between these systems will still exist. Furthermore, for the culture is learned it is natural that a person learns from his/her social environment that shapes his/her cultural and later business views, stereotypes and models of behavior. Consequently, a person will have a different mentality and philosophy and that is exactly what distinguishes one social or national group from another. And finally, it is impossible to disagree with the fourth characteristics, and it is only possible to add that the influence of culture, creating some uniting effect, develops the feeling of social corporation or it would be even better to say a family united by common values, beliefs, models of behavior, etc.
Naturally, all these characteristics of culture directly affect business and business behavior of people making them so different in international terms and so alike in national ones.
Social culture and business behavior: German vs. American
On discussing general points, supporting the idea of significant influence of social culture on business behavior, it is necessary to dwell upon practical aspects and draw traditional German social culture and business behavior as example of such influence and to prove that they are really unique they should be compared to that of Americans.
Probably one of the most widely spread belief about Germans, as well as about Americans, is their individualism. In fact both nations are thought to be highly individualistic but still there may be found some differences in German and American individualism. German individualism has deep historical roots as well as American does but still German individualism may be characterized as less strong than American and is characterized by respect to authorities and older people or people who occupy higher social ranks. But some specialists, such as Osland and Bird, indicates that Americans may also be less individualistic in some critical situations: “Americans have a reputation for being independent, self-reliant and centrally concerned about self… and in times of natural disasters (to name one type of situation), Americans, more than any other culture, have a well earned reputation for voluntary cooperation and assistance” (2000, p. 11).
Obviously this trait of character and characteristic of national culture may be projected on business and in such a situation American higher individualism becomes even more obvious since in German culture and business, even despite their individualism a clear structure and hierarchy within any firm is a norm while in American companies relations are more liberal and less strictly regulated since the importance of each individual is highly valued.
Furthermore, it should also be pointed out that German culture is traditionally perceived as extremely conservative while American is on the contrary very liberal and democratic. As a result Germans prefer in their everyday life as well as in business stability and keeping traditions they do not like great and unmotivated experiments or risks. And in business such a characteristic of national culture seems to be even more obvious for in Germany “sudden changes in business transactions are, even if they may improve the outcome, are unwelcome” (Hampden-Turner and Trompernaars 1993, p.211). At the same time, Americans are considered to be bolder in taking decisions that are quite risky and to a certain extent unpredictable. Comparing German and American companies in such a context it should be emphasized that Americans are more readily introduce some changes than Germans.
Another important characteristic that is considered to be typical for German culture is the fact that the German thought process is extremely thorough, with each aspect of the project being examined in great details. At this point Americans seem to be quite different but it does not necessarily mean that they do not analyze their projects but act thoughtlessly. They simply spend less time on examining their projects and working out some programs to achieve their goals. Obviously in business the time companies or personal waste on planning and analyzing is very important and often crucial for success, on the other hand the quality of the project or the plan that results from such work is even more important. At this respect German businessmen and companies are hardly less successful than American ones.
Logically next step after planning is action and at this point Germans are considered to be fast-doers and traditionally Germans are said that “once the planning is over, a project will move very quickly and deadlines are expected to be honored” (Sims and Gioia 1984, p.361). As for Americans, they obviously divide the time they spend on planning and realization of the project more proportionally than Germans do. This is why it is possible to presuppose that it would be ideal cooperation if Americans prepared the plan of some project and Germans would realize it.
Also a very distinguishing characteristic of German culture is the fact that German citizens do not need or expect to be complimented that is absolutely unacceptable for Americans who need to be permanently stimulated by complements in order to feel self-assured and successful. Probably it is quite strange for an average American that “in Germany, it is assumed that everything is satisfactory unless the person hears otherwise” (Maznevski and Peterson 1997, p.75). Applied to the sphere of business, such attitude makes German businessmen rather choleric and sometimes they are even treated as pessimists. On the other hand, there is an impression that Germans are quite self-assured and simply do not need any complements or other non-material stimulus for their work. To a certain extent German business seems to be carried on by machines and not people who simply do their work. Naturally it is an obvious exaggeration but it does not make such a characteristic of Germans less significant, especially compared to Americans for which complements are barely less significant than material stimuli.
Probably one of the best known characteristic of Germans is their punctuality, which is observed both in everyday life and business. Obviously punctuality is very important especially for business and such a characteristic of German businessmen is their advantage compared to their American colleagues though at this point it is necessary to take into consideration not only cultural traditions but also a number of external and objective factors that influence a person’s ability to be punctual.
It is quite remarkably that even casual customs or gestures that seem to be the same in different cultures have their unique features and sometimes significance. For instance, a traditional handshake at both the beginning and the end of the meeting may be accompanied with a slight bow in Germany and reciprocating the nod is absolutely necessary since it is “a good way to make a good impression, as failure to respond with this nod/bow may get a person off to a bad start” (Lane et al 1997, p.281). Compared to American business, a handshake is obviously not less important but it is not typical for Americans to accompany it with a bow but such a difference is only technical, or external while a deeper sense of a handshake still plays a very significant part.
Traditionally in all cultures and in any human relations a great role is given to the personal space, or distance people keep between them while communicating. It should be said that Germans keep a larger personal space around them and basically it is approximately six inches more than Americans get used to. It is quite noteworthy that if “it is not unusual that when in line at a store cash register, Germans will crowd up very close to a person in front of them” (Osland and Bird 2000, p.362) than in business communication it is unacceptable. Moreover, such difference in standards, existing between Germans and Americans, may be crucial for success of talks, for instance, since the change of distance between people make them feel uncomfortable and sometimes, even unconsciously, may be interpreted as a threat that would naturally lead to misunderstanding and misinterpretations of each other’s behavior.
Probably one of the most significant differences that exist between Germans and Americans and which exists in both social and business spheres is the fact that Germans are extremely formal in communication, especially compared to Americans who are quite democratic and tend to friends-like relations, particularly when people know each other for a long time. The situation in Germany is absolutely different. For instance, in Germany people that have worked together for years still shake hands each morning as if it were the first time they met. Furthermore, Germans practically never use their first names even if they know each other very well and traditionally they greet each other with Herr/Frau ‘last name’. Quite an opposite relations are in the US. It is a well-known fact that Americans prefer to use their first names while last names are used only in extremely official situations. The same may be said about titles that Germans simply adore. Naturally such relations and habits are projected into business that obviously makes German and American businessmen absolutely different and their communication problematic.
Thus, taking into account all above mentioned, it is possible to conclude that cultural traditions are very important and they significantly affect business behavior of representatives of different social groups and cultures. The comparison between German and American culture and its effect on business behavior are quite eloquent arguments in favor of this point of view. Nonetheless, it is necessary to remember that culture and business behavior are very individual and basically depends on a person, i.e. cultural influence may be stronger or weaker, a person may be more experienced in international business and be acquainted with different cultures or have no ideas about them. Anyway, being informed about local culture and specific characteristics of business behavior, a businessman can succeed even in absolutely new markets.