“Whenever I send emails I do my best to copy my German colleagues on the cc: line. I want to keep them in the information-loop. But they do not always put me on the cc: line of their emails. Why don’t they keep me in the loop?”
This is one of those cultural differences which can seem minor. It is anything but minor, however. Email communication is about information sharing. And the flow of information is the lifeblood of any team, any organization, any company.
When critical information does not flow, it not only negatively impacts performance. It can lead to mistrust: “Hey, those folks are purposely keeping us out of the loop!”
When in doubt, Americans will add colleagues to the cc: line. The thinking is: “Joe, I have you in cc: because I think this information might be relevant to your work. I am not 100% sure, but I prefer to err on the side of keeping you in the loop. If the email is not relevant to you, just delete it. Sorry for the distraction.”
Joe’s thinking is: “Thanks, John. Yes, I would prefer to receive the email and decide for myself if it is relevant, than for you to make that decision for me. For only I can judge what is or is not relevant to me and my work. Thanks for putting me in cc: !”
The German approach is different, however. It goes like this: “Hmm, this email could be relevant to Ingrid, but I am not sure. I certainly don’t want to distract Ingrid from her work, so when in doubt, I will not put Ingrid in cc: .”
And Ingrid’s response would be: “Not a problem, Ulrich. We all send and receive too many emails anyway. I prefer not to receive emails if they do not address my work directly. If what you folks in the project are doing is relevant to my work, I will take the initiative to get myself in the information-loop. Thanks, Ulrich!”
The nuanced cultural difference above, however, is not the only difference at play in information-sharing. What if Americans and Germans differ in how they judge which kinds of information is relevant, important, or sensitive?
What if the German colleagues think: “All information regarding X is critical. We expect to be informed, at a minimum via the cc: line” and their American colleagues are not aware of this? What if the Americans view X to be less important, less critical?
The danger is twofold: Germans do not receive the information they need in order to do their work; those same Germans could misinterpret their American colleagues as purposely keeping them out of the information loop. “Information is power.”