Communications Series: Understanding your (Foreign) Neighbor – and Ultimately Yourself

Quality Communication: Like a Well Engineered German Car

Living in 2 cultures, German and American, I notice how both societies have influenced the way I communicate. I observe that most of my fellow Germans living in Los Angeles have adopted some American ways of conversation. In this communications series, I will take a closer look at how a country’s values and virtues affect our communications habits and how we can use those cultural communication practices to communicate better and understand our foreign friends – and ultimately ourselves.

Part 1: How to Communicate Better by Following German Virtues and Values

Being born and raised in Germany, I grew up with what is generally referred to as German values and virtues. My mom and my teachers would make sure I internalized such principles as punctuality, honesty, and cleanliness as early as possible. Without doubt, my mom and my teachers achieved at their insisting educational plan. Today, I can tell you I fulfill almost every cultural cliché when it comes to the values and virtues of German culture.

So, what are values and virtues?

Dictionary.com defines values as the ideals, customs, institutions, etc., of a society toward which the people of the group have an affective regard. These values may be positive, as cleanliness, freedom, or education, or negative, as cruelty, crime, or blasphemy.

German values include: Freedom, peace, quality, punctuality, honesty, a strong work ethic, tradition.

According to Wikipedia , a virtue is a character trait or quality valued as being good.

German virtues include: Discipline, loyalty, innovation, organization, creativity, motivation, diligence.

And, how can we make use of German values and virtues in our communication?

Well, the following list of tips will show you how you can improve your communication and change your habits with a few easy tricks.

Communicate Better with Punctuality

Germans are known for being punctual, right? Have you ever thought about what happens to our conversation or meeting if we are not showing up on time? Right. Most likely our communication will be affected negatively, because we already let our talk partner down before the conversation even started. Whether we’re headed to a meeting, to a casual conversation over coffee or planning to call someone at a certain time, we better be on time. Running late means making apologies which will almost certainly put us in an awkward position – and no one wants to start a conversation like that.

Communicate Better with Honesty

There’s a saying in German that goes “Lies have short legs”. And I believe the same goes for half-truths that every so often find their way into our conversations. Why is it so hard sometimes to be completely honest? Because it would require of us that we take a stand – and that takes courage. However, isn’t it better to be courageous and maybe risk a different opinion than someone else than look like a fool once the lie or half-truth has been discovered? If we communicate honestly, we can never loose our pride nor do we deceive our audience.

Communicate Better with Organization

This is an easy one. Have you ever tried to give a speech being unprepared? A presentation without PowerPoint? A job interview without rehearsing potential questions and answers? In communication, organization goes hand in hand with preparation. Germans are known for being über-organized. Often, people make fun of me because I make a schedule and write down an action plan – but I don’t care because I know it will help me in the end. If we organize our thoughts and ideas (on paper or on the computer screen) we will end up presenting them in a better, more authoritative and more confident, way. Whenever we prepare for speeches, interviews or phone calls, we will impress our audience. Organization can step up your communication game, I guarantee.

Communicate Better with Cleanliness

This should be a standard one. However, I would like to point out a few things that I’ve noticed over and over in face-to-face communication. Be clean. Especially in business meetings, but also in casual conversations, when people come together and talk over lunch or dinner they can (should?) improve their appearance by adopting the following routine:
• Come with clean hands! No one wants to see your dirty fingernails from your last weekend’s gardening session.
• Don’t talk with your mouth full! My mom was particularly merciless on this one, and she’s right: No one wants to see how your food looks after it has left your fork.
• Check your teeth for cleanliness after a meal! It’s better you detect the forgotten piece of lettuce between your front teeth than your table neighbor.

Communicate Better with Quality

You know what they say about the well engineered German car: it runs and runs and runs. By boosting quality, we’re improving our overall communication. Better quality? How do I do that? It’s easy: Check your emails for typos before you send them. Don’t text people, but call. And what about including at least one compliment in every conversation that you have? It’ll be returned to you big time, I promise. By just being polite, we will make the person on the other end happy and that will reflect on how all these happy people talk back to us – happily and with a smile on their faces.

Now, go out and be a better communicator – and let me know how it goes! In my next post, I will talk about how we can communicate better by following American virtues and values . Until then, tschüs and bye-bye!

One comment

  1. almut

    this was fun to read and quite to the point!
    thank you, merciless mom, for doing so efficient a job!

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