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Free trade is a free market policy followed by some international markets in which countries’ governments do not restrict imports from, or exports to, other countries. Other barriers that may hinder trade include import quotas, taxes, and regulatory legislation. (source


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Americans and Germans do a lot of business together – and often have unnecessary misunderstandings, causing a lot of grief and mistrust. An American consultant who has lived in Germany for 25 years offers some help.

By  John Otto Magee

Originally published  Feb 24, 2018 4:00pm  (Co-source Christian Höferle -Pres&CEO-The Culture Mastery )

The United States and Germany are among the most successful countries and cultures in the world. They have the largest and fourth-largest economies, great companies, and great talents. Clearly, they must be doing a lot right. And yet, so much can go wrong when Germans and Americans meet and do business together, as I know from my years as an American consultant living in Germany. It helps for each side to understand where the other is coming from.

Start with basic communication. Germans say what they mean. Mean what they say. Don’t beat around the bush. Don’t use euphemisms. Clear, direct, unambiguous. Get to the point. Right away. To Americans, as to many other English-speaking people, the Germans thus appear impatient, obnoxious, at times even insulting,

Once you enter the inner cultural logic of this German style of communication, it appears less off-putting. The Germans are not exactly an unintelligent, unreflective, insensitive people. Instead they consider direct communication to be honest, transparent, and efficient. And also respectful, because it reduces the risk that people will misunderstand each other. Germans want to understand and be understood.

The inner logic of American communication culture is different. Americans approach important topics cautiously. They use euphemisms to transmit awkward messages. They consider indirect communication to be polite, sophisticated, and still effective. They aim to maintain dialogue in order to deepen it.

Germans aren’t familiar with baseball’s left field.

Germans find the American style of communication too soft, indirect and unclear. The Americans seem to be wrapping their messages in wads of cotton. To complicate matters, the Germans often miss the nuances in the carefully-worded statements of the Americans (or Brits, or other English speakers). American euphemisms, idioms, and witticisms fall flat. Germans aren’t familiar with baseball’s left field. Americans, in turn, perceive Germans as impatient, impolite, and rough. That’s why Americans are wont to feel uncomfortable in a conversation with Germans.

Germans should therefore practice using a softer vocabulary and approaching important topics indirectly. They don’t have to clarify key points immediately but should first establish a rapport. Americans, meanwhile, should embrace German directness, which has advantages. They should keep it simple and unambiguous. It’s OK, the Germans won’t break down in tears.

Let’s consider the way Americans and Germans negotiate agreements. Many Americans I know call their German colleagues Dr. No. (Behind their backs, of course.) More accurate would be Herr or Frau Dr. Nein. The German Nein is indeed more rule than exception. It can come hard and fast. But this Nein, depending on the context, can range from hard to flexible. Germans only say Ja (yes) when they are sure that they can deliver.

In the American context, by contrast, a no is the exception rather than the rule. Americans take pride in being open, helpful, and flexible. They extol cooperation, teamwork, and volunteerism. To reject a request from a colleague out of hand feels like negating these values. Americans are especially reluctant to say no to a boss or a customer.

Germans may think they have an agreement, whereas the Americans communicated no such thing.

So the American no comes in the form of a conditional yes signaling the reasons why assistance is regretfully not possible. To Americans it is a sign of professionalism and finesse to communicate rejection in a positive, supportive, affirmative way. This is not easy for Germans to decipher. Germans want clarity. But a no in the form of a conditional yes sends mixed signals.

The resulting misunderstandings can get ugly. Germans may think they have an agreement, whereas the Americans communicated no such thing. Germans will then conclude that the Americans are unzuverlässig (unreliable). Even on minor matters, to be unzuverlässig is a character flaw in Germany. Unzuverlässig is a label which can take a painfully long time to have peeled off your forehead.

The Americans in turn perceive the Germans as born nay-sayers: Unfriendly, uncooperative, the opposite of team-players. The German Nein comes so fast and unequivocally that Americans seldom consider its real meaning: “Sorry, I cannot commit – at this time.” The Nein is usually conditional, like the American yes.

Germans should realize that their Nein sounds harsh and unfriendly to the American ear. They would do better to soften it. They could try instead to enter into a dialogue with American colleagues by stating the reasons why they cannot (yet) enter into an agreement, then giving the Americans a chance to think about solutions. The Germans should keep in mind that they may need assistance from this very same colleague at a later time – and check their foreheads in the mirror daily.

The Americans, meanwhile, should communicate more literally with their German colleagues than they are used to doing. If they can’t enter into an agreement, they should simply say so, then provide reasons. If they are willing to enter into an agreement, they should give clear indications to what degree their yes is conditional: “Sure, Hans, I can deliver that by next Thursday. But, I have a lot going on at the moment. I can guarantee it only 50%. Let‘s talk again on Tuesday.”

Germans tend to separate message from messenger. Americans do the opposite.

Finally, consider the American and German styles of presentation. Germans tend to separate message from messenger. A German presenter consciously moves into the background so that the content can take center stage. Arguments should speak for themselves. German speakers strive to be factual, analytical, scientific. This often makes them appear objective, impersonal, and colorless. They display little body language and stay behind the podium or to the side. Content takes center stage.

Americans do the opposite. They link message and messenger. Content, form and presenter should form a unity: “Sell yourself first, then your product or service.” So Americans get personal and anecdotal, with personal color and plenty of gesticulation. Go to YouTube and look at Steve Ballmer on stage in his Microsoft days. The messenger is the message.

Germans react ambivalently to this linking of message and messenger. While listening, they whisper to each other: “If his case is so strong, why is he putting on such a ridiculous show?” or “Typical American. All show, no substance. We’ll take him down when we get to Q&A.” Yet some of the Germans secretly think: “Wow. Uninhibited. Natural. Believes in himself. Getting me to believe. Wish we Germans were allowed to do the same.”

Americans watching a German presenter often feel that the speaker lacks passion or even courage. “Why is she hiding behind the podium? What’s she afraid of?” or “Sleeping pill. Quick, someone open the windows.” or “Oh please, don’t do the math. We believe you.” Yet some Americans secretly think: “Wow. Clear-eyed, clear-headed. Nothing but the facts. Rock-solid analysis. Wish we Americans didn’t have to entertain the children.”

So the Germans should identify more with their message. Use “I”. Tell anecdotes. Don’t run away from who you are. Tell the story, including your story. Put your heart into it. Drop the robot-stuff. The Americans, by contrast, should temper their inner showman. Inject skepticism into your message. It adds to credibility.

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Understand Why Xpat Gender Diversity Matters …do something about it

By Olivier Meier, Mercer


  • While some companies are making progress, the percentage of women in the expatriate workforce globally is still a paltry 14%, with best performing industries and countries lingering in the 20–30% range. Parity is a long way off.
  • Having international experience is a pre-condition to reaching top managerial levels within many multinational companies. Furthermore, international assignments allow employees to develop essential skills and build a network that can boost their career.
  • It’s not just a mobility question: the low participation of women in the assignee talent pool can put a brake on gender equality at leadership levels. It’s a strategic talent issue.
  • Global Mobility should be part of the solution and help women break the glass ceiling rather than be part of the problem.


  • There are unconscious biases in management and HR thinking that can influence the assignee selection process.
  • Female mobility candidates could be discriminated, but also disqualify themselves, due to lack of perceived support for themselves and their families.
  • The real degree of hardship for women in each location should be assessed objectively.
  • Issues should be discussed when the talent pool is being created, not later in the selection process.



Bring the discussion about gender parity to the front and discuss how to move away from the traditional long-term male expatriate model.


Without completely changing your policies, make sure that they include specific measures such as day care or spousal support to facilitate global mobility of women. Alternatively, provide the flexibility to re-purpose existing allowances or lump-sums that can used to address the needs of female assignees or minorities.


All too often employees and their spouses are not aware of the support offered by the company. Talk openly about diversity in your policies and encourage internal discussion on this topic. Communicate about role models and success stories.


Make sure that the mobility team is in contact with the diversity team and can provide input on mobility issues. Gender parity and diversity are important topics for companies. It’s an opportunity for mobility teams to play a strategic role and help solve a major talent management issue.


Use workforce progression analyses to measure the career progression of female assignees, employee attitude surveys to capture female assignee feedback, as well as other indicators such as pay progression analyses that could indicate that there are gender gap issues in general.


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Guest Editorial: European perspective

Is mobility really an opportunity for employees?  

By Olivier Meier, Mercer- Munich

Principal – Helping Companies Go Global; Consulting, Data/Technology to Support Talent Mobility.

Editor’s Memo: Mr Olivier Meier will be a faculty-member on June 11 at the Global Business IQ™  in Stuttgart inside the Museum at Mercedes-Daimler

A better alignment between global mobility and companies’ global talent agenda is a precondition for making mobility truly strategic and help companies achieve a significant return on investment with their international assignments.

Looking at the top talent trends and HR priorities, it is interesting to see the potential synergies and mismatches between the talent agenda and the realities of global mobility.

FIGURE 1 Source: Mercer’s 2017 Global Talent Trends Study


In the 2017 talent survey, opportunity to work abroad is at the bottom of the list of employment aspects that employees perceive as ways to improve their work situation.

This is partly explained by the fact that mobility for less qualified workers is viewed as constrained mobility – i.e. the risk of being the victim of job delocalization as opposed to being offered new opportunities abroad.

The mobility gap between international high flyers and the rest of employees who can be victims of job mobility or are not been considered for international assignments is widening.

This gap has an impact on career progression and might slow down workforce diversity progress (that’s the case with gender parity as discussed in the article about women on assignment.)

The second explanation is that mobility is not always leading to faster promotion in companies despite the hype and declarations of intention (developing leadership is one of HR’s priority and should in theory be supported by global mobility.)

On the contrary, mobility can impact negatively career perspectives by cutting high performers from their peers at the company’s HQ and from their business network or by creating a skill mismatch (skills developed during the assignment might no longer be relevant when back in the home country.)

Furthermore, the absence of global career management coordination could mean that managers might not be even aware of the past achievements of their employees abroad.

Tracking the career evolution of international mobile employees provide useful insights on the real value of international mobility to boost an employee’s career.

Are former expatriates promoted faster (mobility is clearly an accelerator)?

Are they promoted at the same pace as their local peers?

Or slower (mobility is a danger for the employee’s career)?

A disconnection between the official company message about expatriation (expatriation is good for you) and the realities of mobility (I am being passed over for promotion) could lead to attraction and retention issues.


Lateral moves (moving between job types as opposed to being promoted in the same type of job) are not viewed positively: only 14% of employees respond that it could improve their work situation.

Yet, the development of lateral moves – and their acceptation by employees – is critical for retention purposes and to improve skills in fast changing environment. The number of jobs at managerial level is limited and not all highly skilled and talented employees can make it to the top.

For a mobility perspective, the impact of this limit is even greater and partly explains repatriation problems. Companies cannot offer a guarantee to expatriates after their repatriation.

There are objectively not enough jobs of a certain level available in every single country. International assignments tend to increase the skillset of international employees and in some case accelerate promotion – but that leads to increased expectations and ultimately to a retention crisis when employees reach the bottle neck in the managerial path.

Lateral moves are important because they can ease the pressure by increasing the number of possible job options for employees.

In a context of fast workplace changes and digitalization, they are a way to develop new skills and maintain employability.

The future of work is about changing jobs and even career paths frequently as opposed to having a linear career progression.

But this kind of flexible career path can only work if there is a greater degree of recognition and acceptance of lateral moves by both employees and management.

From that perspective, finding ways to strategically moving talent within the company is rightly listed as a top HR priority.


YES or NO…


FIGURE 2: Source: Mercer’s 2017 Global Talent Trends Study