When it comes to understanding communication in Germany, many people don’t know where to begin. Some overemphasize the differences between communication in Germany and the United States because of the language difference. Others overemphasize similarities and assume that since both countries are “western” and largely “post-industrial”, they will exhibit similar styles of communication.
This article serves as an introduction to a few ways in which the communication styles of Germany and the United States are both similar and different.
Communication in Germany is very direct.
Germans tend to say exactly what they mean and do not value superfluous “fillers” within conversations. Americans, on the other hand, usually include these fillers without even realizing. Due to this cultural difference, Americans often see Germans as impolite and harsh.
I remember being startled the first time I called a friend’s house in Germany and her father answered the phone by saying, “Linnemann” (his last name). There was no polite “Hello?”, only a quick confirmation that I had reached the Linnemann household. While this seemed unnatural to me the first several times it happened, I soon came to realize that the German way of answering the phone was not impolite, but efficient. The same can be said about their communication style in general; it is direct, clear, and to the point.
In the spirit of being direct, eye contact is a must.
This is one instance in which German communication is not so different from the United States. In both cultures, a lack of eye contact can be interpreted as a sign of weakness, dishonesty, and poor self-esteem.
When in doubt, address someone formally.
In the United States, it is very common for young people to address adults by their first names. This is less common in Germany, where formal speech is preferred unless speaking to children or close friends. Whereas I may refer to the parents of my friends in the United States as Pat, Dale, etc., I always refer to the parents of my friends in Germany as Frau (Mrs.) Gehring, Herr (Mr.) Diemerling, etc. When in doubt, have the respect to address someone formally. If they prefer that you communicate more informally, they will tell you. After all…Germans are direct!
Further Germany Resources: