In Germany, follow up is far less frequent. Once an agreement has been made neither party feels the need to contact the other in order to inquire about the status or priority of an agreement. "Agreed is agreed."
And agreements are meant to be held. The priority of an agreement remains at the level it was assigned when entered into. There should be no need to verify or reinforce the importance of an agreement.
In the American context, because people enter into many agreements and on a constant basis, follow up is a necessity. It is how Americans maintain a common understanding of the status and priority of an agreement.
In many cases, parties to an agreement arrange predetermined times to communicate with each other. They schedule their follow up.
Frequent follow up can be interpreted as lack of trust or even as a form of controlling. Germans will ask themselves, "do they think we forget agreements we've entered into?
Do they think that we make promises which we don't intend to keep?" Their reaction will be one of discomfort, irritation, impatience.
If follow up does not occur, one party gains the impression that for the other party the priority of the agreement has changed.
The danger is evident. The German colleague saw no reason to follow up. She is expecting to receive work results. The American colleague assumes the opposite.
Advice to Germans
Double your use of follow up. Americans will not see it as mistrust or control, but as cooperation and teamwork. Follow up helps them to better understand how the agreement fits into your and their work context.
The communication will enable both of you to respond to changing parameters. Explain to your American colleague when and how follow up is appropriate in the German context.
Advice to Americans
Explain to your German colleague as early as possible the function of follow up in the American context. Warn them of your need to remain up-to-date on your various agreements.
Then ask that colleague when and in which mode (telephone, e-mail, face-to-face meeting) interim communication is acceptable. At the same time, try to reduce your need for follow up by 50 percent.