Audience thinks like them


“In my experience, Germans usually try to persuade in a fairly logical manner and in that sense are not dissimilar to Americans. I have noticed a tendency, however, to assume the audience thinks like they do, shares their general views of the world, etc. In selling something (products, ideas) it would seem useful to prepare the ground a bit more before going forward.”


Your question has three parts. All three are highly relevant. Let’s address them one by one.

„Germans persuade in a logical manner … not dissimilar to Americans.“

Yes, both cultures have so much in common. Their deepest roots are common: Judeo-Christian faith, Greek philosophy, political structures influenced by the Romans, the rule of law, human rights, democracy, market-driven economy, language, generations of close contacts on many levels, and so much more.

And although Americans are made up of many cultures, Americans as a people, and America as a culture, is still primarily European. The German influence on American has been especially significant, in both the past and the present. Americans and Germans are relatives in an extended family.

This fact makes their cooperation that much more complex. Does this sound counter-intuitive? Only apparently so. For the differences﹣deep and subtle﹣are not suspected, not anticipated, therefore neither seen, much less articulated.

Germans and Americans can certainly succeed in their cooperation without addressing these subtle cultural differences, but they can succeed even more if they do. Your question makes that point indirectly.

„… a tendency, however, to assume the audience thinks like they do ….“

Which we all do. Don’t we all assume that our way of thinking is universal and not formed and driven by our particular, specific national culture? Is it not the case, that we see our approach to persuading as human and not as American- or German-human?

When I reflect on my first years in Germany, my operating assumption was that Germans were Americans who just happened to speak German, live in a different country, have a different history, etc. The readers of this are certainly welcome to laugh at me.

And I laugh at myself, too. It did not occur to me until I had lived in Germany for roughly five years that the Germans thought in many ways much differently than I did. It fact, it did not occur to me at all. It was pointed out to me by a German who was working in the cross-cultural field.

It is only when we experience a different reaction to what we think is clear, straightforward, obvious, that we realize – if we’re fortunate enough to realize ourselves or have pointed out to us – that there are other ways of thinking, that there are differences, many very significant, between how Americans and Germans think.

This goes to the heart of the matter, Matt, to understanding those differences in our national cultural hard-wiring, differences in our most basic operating assumptions, the coordinates of our thinking.

„In selling something … useful to prepare the ground .…“

Yes! And it is there that CI is trying to make a contribution. The first step is to understand the differences. In this case between how the two cultures fundamentally persuade.

The second is to anticipate the influence of those differences on how a message﹣our message﹣is understood, or as is often the case, not fully understood or even misunderstood. The third step is to then adapt one’s message so that it, indeed, does come across persuasively.

We „prepare the ground“ by taking those three steps. Please see CI’s analysis on Persuasion.