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German Business Style:

How it Differs from Japanese and American

Comparing two cultural styles is interesting, but comparing three is even more interesting.  Germans and Japanese are both strongly committed to exercising due diligence: researching and analyzing all the details.  In communication styles, both Americans and Germans tend to be more direct, but Japanese and Americans veer away from directness that could be embarrassing.

See what you think of these aspects of the cultures.


Beginning the Relationship:

Japanese want to take sufficient time to build a rapport with the other party and size them up.

Regions in the U.S. vary greatly, but most are quite task focused and will move quickly to business (especially the East and West Coasts) after some rapport-building.

Germans are very time-efficiency conscious, expecting absolute punctuality, concise conveyance of information, with no time for frills but enough, properly sequenced information to be valuable. They are often unused to, and uncomfortable with, expectations to make “small talk.”  At the same time, an evening “business” meal, especially in Germany, however, may go on (by American standards) for some time, with much of the conversation expected to focus on politics, world affairs and economy, broader-ranging business-related topics.



When it comes to selling something, Japanese focus on personal relationships. Even a store salesperson will usually put a lot of energy into making sure you have a good interpersonal experience. When it comes to the item itself, appearance and quality are very important.

Americans play up a product’s image and price as consumers are very conscious of these.

Germans, on the other hand, are highly interested in performance and features, and merchants believe, as the experts, there role is very much to advise the client/customer on what it is they need.


Japanese appreciate a presentation that starts with context; background information and general situation.

Americans want to be inspired or emotionally engaged so presenters often start with a joke or a quick story that catches the audience’s interest and puts the “news” right up front, expecting the audience to ask questions about background information if they are interested.

Germans want facts (even if they are negative) and a case that builds logically and thoroughly to the key information.  This means both Germans and Japanese can end up missing the “new” or key information in an American’s presentation, or not be able to consider it in enough context, and consequently not accord to their U.S. counterparts the degree of credibility/competence they deserve.


Japanese often adopt a communication style that saves face, even if the true message isn’t directly clear or is so obfuscated the message seems ambiguous or misleading.

Americans want a clear and direct message, but bluntness can seem harsh, so the communication is often softened around the edges.

Germans tend to prefer a very frank, direct, and self-assertive style as differences of opinion are not taken personally. The American concept of sandwiching a negative message between two positive ones can be very confusing to Germans who feel they’re getting a hopelessly perplexing mixed message.

Germans and Japanese also often feel Americans are very “coddled,” expecting praise for simply doing what is expected of them because it’s their job.

Decision making:

Japanese decision making takes time to bring everyone on board and to check and recheck details. They want to make the right decision, but more importantly, they want everyone to be able to support it.

Americans like action and clarity, so they want to get the decision made soon (none of this analysis paralysis, thank you very much), even if it means a lengthier time to implement the decision while they figure out how they are going to actually execute the decision, or, alternatively, going back to the “drawing board” if the first plan (or two) are flawed.

Germans, however, take the time to do a thorough analysis, check facts and, often, to consult outside experts, to make sure they are making the best possible decision.  

Both Germans and Japanese want the Plan (when finally arrived at) to work, and because they have so much invested in it, tend to stick to it as long as possible, sometimes even in denial about problems.
Work-life balance:

Work consumes a lot of one’s time in Japan and is currently a hot issue due to “death from overwork” and suicides pointing to overwork.

Americans want more balance in their life, but still often work more after coming home or on weekends, putting in many more hours on work than is apparent just from the time they are at work.

Germans are much more protective of their private time and, though, for many, their summer vacations aren’t as long as they once were, they take shorter but more frequent vacations than before.  Others in Germany, however, still feel firmly that if you’re not away (at LEAST once a year) for a solid three weeks, the vacation doesn’t have the correct “recover, relax, regroup” arc (get to a point of good relaxation, enjoy that, start getting ready to return to work) to be truly effective.

Excuse me, but I think I’ll play my German heritage card and go home on time today. See you next time!


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