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Negotiating with Germans, Austrians, and Swiss with Mihai Isman, Ep #371

Nn 371 mihai isman 1

Germany, Austria, and Switzerland are all countries that speak German. And though they speak the same language, each has a unique culture and negotiating style. The way they approach communication, formalities, aggressiveness, etc., varies significantly.

Mihai Isman is an International Negotiator & Conflict Resolution Expert from Germany. In this episode of Negotiations Ninja, he compares and contrasts how the Germans, Austrians, and Swiss people negotiate.

Outline of This Episode

  • [1:50] Learn more about Mihai Isman
  • [2:44] How Germans, Austrians, and Swiss communicate differently
  • [6:02] How an American should approach negotiating with a German
  • [11:55] Each country’s history dramatically impacts their negotiating style
  • [15:31] The differences in formalities and aggressiveness in negotiation
  • [20:25] How to avoid offending Germans, Austrians, and Swiss
  • [29:01] You can’t change the rules of the game

How Germans, Austrians, and Swiss communicate differently

Germans, Austrians, and Swiss may speak the same language, but they are quite different people. Each nation uses different communication patterns.

With Germans, Mihai states that you can be direct, open, and loud. They believe truth is more important than diplomacy, so they are blunt. Many foreigners who aren’t used to doing business with Germans are surprised. Arguments are logical and well-thought. Their speech is serious, and they don’t smile as much.

In contrast, Swiss people are very polite and make friendly conversation. They’re obsessed with security. Their discourse during a negotiation is pragmatic and detached. In general, they are not emotional speakers (lacking charisma).

Austrians believe that being charming and engaging in small talk is important. They are open and friendly on the surface but are more manipulative than Swiss or Germans. Many Austrians like giving monologues. If you aren’t prepared, you’ll think they’re rambling. They laugh when they tell stories and like to fill the silence.

How an American should approach negotiating with a German

If a German knows their counterpart is American, they will prepare for a fast and dynamic process. They’re prepared to be honest and truthful. They also expect it to be a competitive environment yielding quick results and implementation. That being said, Germans prefer a precise and written plan for implementation.

Cultural preparation affects every aspect of a negotiation: How you present the topics, design the process, qualify the person, and design the team and roles at the table. They make sure someone is there that knows the culture well. Americans like to assume risk in business more than Germans. You can’t always approach negotiation from a Western perspective. You have to prepare for intercultural differences to be effective.

While both cultures appreciate speed, American negotiators tend to have quarterly targets and goals to achieve in a short period. Germans typically have yearly goals that don’t resonate the same way. So they may misinterpret speed as harshness. Most people in Germany are strong, logical, and analytical. They want to stick to their plan. It’s not advisable to rush through the process.

People think that Germans don’t have a sense of humor, which Mihai state isn’t true—but they don’t use it in a business context.

Each country’s history dramatically impacts their negotiating style

Austria’s history is reflected in its national identity. Mihai highly advises that you avoid talking about WWII, topics about Hitler, etc., in Austria because they carry a lot of guilt. Secondly, the Austrian/Hungarian Empire was far-reaching and strong, so they still embrace a sense of grandeur. Austrians know they play an important role in Europe but don’t know what it is yet.

The Swiss have a focused and strong identity based on security. It’s the most heavily armed nation in Europe. Every Swiss inhabitant has to have a bunker (they can rent or own one). Because they prefer to stay neutral, they have to emphasize safety and remain protected.

Switzerland is a melting pot of languages and cultures. They are also reluctant to give the government power. There are seven prime ministers in Switzerland. One leads the others, and they rotate yearly. It’s a political system that is meant to prevent strong relationships and preserve cooperation.

Listen to the whole episode to learn more about negotiating with Germans, Austrians, and Swiss. It’s a fascinating conversation.

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