Japan and Germany are leading economies in their respective regions, and both belong to that exclusive club of the most influential and powerful nations on the planet. Companies from both countries engage economically in either country. Here, there are always possibilities to optimize, especially with respect to communication and direct, personal collaboration.
Why Germany is so interesting for Japanese companies
For many years now, economic activity has thrived in Germany. The efficiency of the German economy is enormous, and there is full employment in almost all areas. Within the European economic community, Germany is not only located at the center, but as Europe´s strongest and biggest economy, it is also the mainstay for companies that are aiming for success within Europe. Some countries such as China have realized this and are investing strongly in Germany, acquiring holdings in companies so as to be present in this region and also for the long run.
Japan and Germany are connected by a long tradition, based for the most part on very similar values. Both countries are said to be particularly efficient in their respective regions as leaders in technology, economy and trend-setting research. People of both countries have an above-average education, and habe attributes such as diligence, cleanliness, highly reliable and loyal, and are said to be (and this is another commonality) rather “reserved”. Products from both countries are rated among the best in the global market, especially when it comes to a combination of quality and function.
However, there are also clear differences. While the Japanese, for example, are perceived as particularly polite by Europeans (and they really are; I can vouch for this from my work-stays in Japan), Germans have the reputation of being a bit too direct and may thus appear quite impolite with their political correctness. When you enter a shop in Japan, you will most likely experience customer orientation in perfection, while in Germany you will unfortunately probably come across impolite employees every now and then.
What both have in common is a high demand for performance and success.
Room for optimization: Communication
Many Japanese companies have already been active and successful in Germany for years. At the same time, there are opportunities time and again to optimize this collaboration, especially with regard to communication. In purchase or sales conversations, in discussions or decisions, in leadership situations or within team communication, there, Japanese and Germans differ somehow.
German customers appreciate a high level of openness and a certain directness from sellers and sales advisors. Generally, it does not matter if the contact takes place in a shop or at an exhibition booth, for example. And many Japanese companies use Germany as one of their most important exhibition locations worldwide!
Some questions for Thomas Ito, 49, translator and expert in Japanese-German communication:
How can a Japanese start up a conversation with a German in a very positive manner?
I think that most Germans love their country and are proud of its achievements insofar as it should be clever to praise “typical German” things, e.g. the highway, German beer, a good German sausage…and certainly Goethe! However, Hitler should possibly not be mentioned. He is considerably embarassing for Germans, and the average German would rather not talk about him.
Which Japanese habit should rather be avoided in Germany?
Slurping is considered impolite in Germany…even though this is quite common in Japan when eating noodle soups. However, what really sustainably irritates Germans is the continuous apologizing – while a “Sumimasen” is good manners in Japan, the confused German will often ask: “What are you apologizing for all the time?” So, it´s better to apologize less often, otherwise the German would think that the Japanese counterpart has a guilt complex.
A tip for better team meetings with German colleagues?
When a Japanese says: “This is difficult”, a German will understand it as: “It is achievable, if we just try hard enough.” But unfortunately, this is the exact opposite of what was meant insofar as it is sometimes advisable during meetings with Germans to directly use the words “No, this won´t work, we cannot make this.” Sometimes, this might need some courage, but it is anyway better than death by Karoshi.
The key towards understanding Germans?
The German author, Heinrich Heine, once wrote something like this: “The German spirit and German nature may be able to heal the world.” And this sentence is deeply impressed in the Germans´collective DNA: they are often very self-absorbed. In case of doubt, lots of patience and understanding for this little “tick” will help when the German counterpart again wants to know or be able to do everything better. If you just let him/her do them, the German will recognize early enough when s/he is on the wrong track…And then s/he will really be most grateful for any constructive suggestions on how to do them better.
Room for optimization: Leadership
Within company structures, the differences become clearer. The hierarchies and collaboration above those hierarchies work somewhat differently.
German employees are guided by more individual freedom, while Japanese employees count more clearly on working in a network or in a team. Thus, managers need a different style of leadership if they want to be successful for the company with their teams. The German management style is very situational, a bit more flexible and very order-related. Reduced to a simplified denominator: the manager discusses an order with employees in terms of contents, framework conditions and targets AND then lets the employees more or less realize it with a high degree of independence. A high level of skills on the part of the employees, as well as self-motivation and self-responsibility are required. A directive leadership becomes less and less relevant, not to mention that it might also be clearly rejected by employees.
Products from Japan have an excellent reputation, and the Japanese are very welcome in Germany. They are perceived as reliable, diligent and efficient business partners. Germany is not only an interesting country but a crucial one at that for Japanese companies that are striving for success in Europe. This applies to both B2C (business to customer) and B2B (business to business). Thus, it is highly recommended for companies, managers and experts that seek to do business in Germany to be well prepared for these cross-cultural commonalities and differences, as well as the respective societal and economic circumstances.
by Karl Heinz Lorenz