German punctuality and “Sorry, I got stuck in traffic…”
– There is no movie “Quarter past High Noon”.
Great. You came just in time to read this article. How do I know that you are punctual? Because this article is always prepared for you – as a matter of fact: This article has nothing better to do then to wait for you.
If you meet real people it might be different, though. They are usually quite busy. If you make them wait you basically tell them [etweet]”My time is more valuable than yours”.[/etweet]
Now I know that this wouldn`t be your intention. Maybe you simply come from another culture. But even when I realise this rationaly – it will still feel like an insult.
Unlike our public image Germans are actually not very submissive to superiors. Intercultural studies by Hofstede and others show Germans to be less impressed by power than even Americans.
This means that even if you are my boss – it would still be disrespectful to let me wait. If you happen to be the manager of a German team: Take a close look if team members show up late for meetings. It might be that there is simply a more relaxed culture in your company – or it might be that they are questioning your authority.
(Surprise: If you give your assistant an order and she asks you why she needs to do this – that is not lack of respect! Germans simply like to understand why something is important)
The deeper meaning of punctuality
So far this shouldn’t be too surprising to you. The real benefit for you comes from understanding the emotional reasons for German punctuality. Three traits of the German “national character” come together here:
1. Low power distance – Germans see each other as equals and want to be treated accordingly.
2. Longterm Orientation – Germans like to plan in advance. If you’re late then it might force us to reschedule other appointments or not be able to live up to our next commitment. Forcing someone to act against his deepest values is the surest way to loose a friend. For good.
2. High uncertainty avoidance – Germans want to be certain. It stresses us out if we can not rely on you. If you let us down in small things – like being punctual – we will not trust you with important issues. Help Germans to avoid uncertainty and you will make good progress toward your goals.
There is a big plus in being afraid of uncertainty. Our need to “be sure” let us to create the rule of law. There is a lot of rules in Germany – which can be quite unnerving. But the upsite is: Everyone will be treated the same according to the rules.
I lived many years in foreign countries. When I came back to Germany I realised: It makes me feel save to see a police officer. A feeling I didn’t have in many other countries. Thats a huge benefit of our society.
To build strong relationships we need to focus on what we have in common instead of what separates us.
Two tips to behave appropriate in business meetings in Germany:
1. To be punctual means that you are there and prepared to start at the scheduled time of the meeting. Not that you just run into the office on your last gasp. (That’s German punctuality.)
2. To achieve this: Be there prior to the actual meeting time. For daily business: 5 minutes early. For longer distances or important meetings 15 minutes early. I actually had a meeting with investors lately where they asked me to “be there 30 minutes early so that we can start on time.” That’s punctuality in Germany.
Where did punctuality make a real impact on your career? Share your experience and leave a comment.
Chris Pyak is a writer and business coach. Chris helps international professionals to get English jobs in Germany.
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