Yes/No absolute

Question
“In the German culture, why does a yes or a no need to be absolute and not conditional upon changing input factors? In other words, is a qualified yes or a qualified no acceptable in Germany?”

John Otto Magee
Yes, the German culture allows for a „qualified yes“ and a „qualified no“. In fact, what culture could not? Life, reality, the interactions between individuals and groups demand this day in and day out.

Especially fast-moving, complex and sophisticated cultures depend on contingency-planning, on the ability to act in ways which imply (factors in) that the parameters of a given situation can change at any time.

That is the very definition of the term flexibility. Merriam-Webster online writes: „characterized by a ready capability to adapt to new, different, or changing requirements.“

Merriam-Webster lists the following synonyms: adaptable, adjustable, alterable, changeable, elastic, fluid, malleable, modifiable, pliable, variable.

As antonyms it lists: established, fixed, immutable, enelastic, inflexible, invariable, nonmalleable, ramrod, set, unadaptable, unalterable, unbudgeable, unchangeable.

So yes, the German culture does allow for „qualified yes“ and a „qualified no“. One could argue that they are especially good at it, when one considers their precision, how well they plan, coordinate and manage actions taken at the same, or near same, time. The Germans are proud of their ability to develop complex, inter-related work processes, whether it be within companies or in the general public space.

Which means the question is not so much whether the German culture allows for a „qualified yes“ and a „qualified no“, but rather the following questions:

How do Germans define what is „qualified“?

When in the German context is a „qualified yes“ or a „qualified no“ a response which a German can deal with, factor into their work, coordinate with other qualified situations, versus when do Germans prefer to hear either a clear „yes“, a clear „no“ or a clear „I don‘t know at this time“?

Stated another way: When is „yes“ or a „no“ too qualified, too unspecific, so that it cannot be dealt with in the German contingency logic? Germans will often say: „Come back to me, please, when you have a higher degree of clarity of what it is you are asking for.“

Every culture‘s contingency logic has its own bandwidth, borders, poles, extremes, degree of tolerance (pick your term), within which they operate, plan, factor in potential sudden change.

Perhaps the German bandwidth is narrower than the American. Perhaps not. The Germans would argue that they are more flexible than the Americans. See the intercultural divergences in leadership approaches.

The German contingency logic works. Germans and Germany are exceptionally capable and successful. The American bandwidth, the American contingency logic, works also. Americans and America are equally capable and successful. They are, however, two different contingency logics.

„Contingent yes“ … „contingent no“, this appears to be a rather simple, straightforward topic. Americans ask themselves: „Why can‘t the Germans be more flexible?“ Germans ask themselves: „Why can‘t the Americans think things through first, before acting, then inevitably changing course?“

This is a very complex topic. The fundamental divergence in contingency logics involves the following topics: agreements, decision making, leadership as well as systematic (German) versus particularistic (American) thinking.

The challenge – with great upside potential – is developing a common, or near-common, understanding about contingency planning, of how flexible a „yes“ and a „no“ should be.

Leave a Reply