Category Archives: Persuasion

Past is Present vs. Searing

For Germans the past is present, relevant, of great importance. The past explains who we are, where we come from, how the present has become the way it is. For them the past is not history in the sense of gone, over, goodbye, irrelevant. History is present and future, a part of their identity.

Old buildings, with their stairwells and staircases, ceilings and facades, and many other kinds of cultural monuments are protected in Germany by Denkmalschutz – laws requiring their protection and preservation – even if they are in dire need of reburbishment or reconstruction.

Entire sections of German towns can be placed under Denkmalschutz. History is heritage. Heritage is identity. The battle for and against Stuttgart 21 – a modernization of Stuttgart‘s main train station – went on for several years and became the prominent issue in recent state-wide elections in Baden-Württemberg.

Outdoor museums in Germany show how people of past epochs lived and worked. Castles from the Middle Ages with their fascinating guided tours are popular daytrip destinations. In every German village, town and city one finds remnants of the past. Town gates, walls, even moats, and chapels are integrated seamlessly into the modern.

In elementary schools children learn Heimatkunde – history of their local region. The Heimatfilm – movies set in a specific region such as Bavaria or the Black Forest – remain a constant in the German media landscape, keeping alive regional customs and traditions. Many detective tv series are regionally based, one week in Hamburg in the north, the next in Leipzig in the East, the one thereafter in Cologne in the Rhineland.


Searing: Very hot; marked by extreme intensity, harshness, or emotional power.

The United States is an immigrant country. More accurately stated: a younger, more recent immigrant country. For the history of mankind is the history of man moving, settling, then picking up and moving again.

There were and are reasons for why people moved and continue to move to the United States. Many seek greater freedom of thought, of religion, of way of life. Economic opportunity was/is certainly a motivation for many, if not most. And there are those who wanted to break out of the inflexible structures of their native country.

The immigrant experience is searing. It is of great emotional intensity, forming who we are as individuals, families, ethnic communities, and as a nation. The stories, the emotions, the choices made are passed down from generation to generation.

Oddly, but understandably, an American of German descent will say: “I’m German,” meaning, “My ethnic heritage is German,” in a deeper sense, “My national cultural hard-wiring is American and German,” just as it is for others: American and Italian, American and Irish, and Vietnamese, and Mexican, and Polish, and so on.

A searing experience. People left behind all that they knew. Language, culture, traditions, friends and relatives. The risks were both high and not entirely known. The immigrant experience leads to a complex relationship with what was once home. For people take their culture with them. National culture changes only slowly and painfully.

Immigrants admire, respect, long for their home. But they also leave it behind, in some ways they reject it. Americans have always seen America as the New World. Not just a new settlement, a new country. But a new world, as if mankind were starting afresh, anew. It is a part of the American self-understanding to believe that you can strike out on a new path, question old ways, methods, traditions.

Realistic for Americans means that the present is a starting point to the future, a new starting point towards a new future, possibly different and better than the past. Yes, the present is the result of the past, but not locked into a pre-determined, unalterable trajectory. The past, therefore, has less relevance. There is less need to explain how the present was arrived at.

Whereas for Germans realistic means “keeping your feet on the ground,” maintaining a sober view of the situation, not deviating too much from known ways; “knowing where you come from.” For Americans realistic means developing a vision, imagining new possibilities, stretching beyond, reaching for more and greater things.

Germans “where from.” Americans “where going.”

Germans define realistic as understanding reality. To understand the present, is to understand how it became so – the past.

To be realistic is to understand what is possible. The possible is determined by not only by present circumstances, but also by the ability to shape a new future, To be realistic is to envision a future. Forward movement often demands moving away from the past. Americans are future-oriented.

German Perception
American visions are often not grounded or rooted in an accurate understanding of the status quo. Americans want to move forward without first establishing their starting point and direction.

American Perception
Too much emphasis on the present as a product of the past is seen as backward-looking. A vision of the future, forward movement, demands moving away from the past.

Advice to Germans
Provide the historical context. But again, let your listeners know beforehand that you need to tell the full story. Your aim is for all to have a common understanding of the status quo before you can consider how best to move forward together.

Advice to Americans
Try to hold back your natural tendancy to jump from the present into the future. Take the time to explain the context of a situation. This will lengthen the presentation. Do your homework and demonstrate it.

“Don’t push those buttons!“

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines ambivalence as “simultaneous and contradictory attitudes or feelings (as attraction and repulsion) toward an object, person, or action; continual fluctuation (as between one thing and its opposite); uncertainty as to which approach to follow.”

Attraction and repulsion. Germans are attracted by logical, well-researched and well-argued statements. But they are also attracted by personal appeal, by a speaker who is both appealing and appealing to, as in reaching out to.

Germans are repulsed by an imbalance between rational (objective) and personal (subjective) appeal. “Mehr Schein als Sein,” which translates into “more appearance than substance,” is a severe criticism. But they are also repulsed, perhaps more so, by a sophisticated and effective appeal to emotions, to the less rational.

Degraded from subject to object

Germans are also capable of persuading by placing themselves front and center, by establishing a personal connection, by appealing to emotions. However, they choose not to. They choose not to teach, train or reinforce a conscious appeal to the emotions. Ambivalence. They can, and often want to, but are wary of the negative effects. Instead, Germans feel the need, the obligation, to constrain themselves, to “not go there.”

Why? Partly it is their strong scientific, rational, intellectually rigorous approach. Partly it is their belief that persuasion should not be deceptive. Appealing to human emotions – “pushing all of the right buttons” without the listener being aware of it – is a form of manipulation.

For if the listener is not aware that their thinking is being steered by their emotions, she or he is not in a position to freely choose to accept or reject the arguments presented. That person is reduced from subject to object. Deception. Manipulation.

“Nicht aufdrängen.” … “Close the sale!”

Don’t be pushy!

Martin Wehrle, a German managment coach, writes career-articles for DIE ZEIT. In a recent article he advises: “Nicht aufdrängen!” – Don’t be pushy! He notes that many job applicants are far too aggressive, as early as in the initial sentences of their cover letter.

“Because I am a perfect fit for the position, I am sending you my application ….” Starting off like that almost guarantees an immediate rejection, writes Wehrle.

Instead of allowing the reader to make her own judgement, the applicant makes it for them. Personnel departments want to make their own decision who is right for the company. That’s what they get paid for.

Wehrle recommends: “Intelligent applicants act like witnesses before a jury. They don’t push the jury to a decision. Instead they simply state the facts, objectively.

The more objective the witness comes across, the more they are believed. The best applicants don’t speak for their application. Their application speaks for them.

American Sales Techniques

Wikipedia lists the following kinds of closes (asking for and making the sale, getting the order):

Alternative Choice Close, also called the positive choice close, in which the salesperson presents the prospect with two choices, both of which end in a sale. “Would you prefer that in red or blue?”

The Apology Close, in which the salesperson apologizes for not yet closing the sale. “I owe you an apology. Somewhere along the line, I must have left out important information, or in some way left you room for doubt. We both know this product suits your needs perfectly, and so the fault here must be with me.”

The Assumptive Close, also known as the presumptive close, in which the salesperson intentionally assumes that the prospect has already agreed to buy, and wraps up the sale. “Just pass me your credit card and I’ll get the paperwork ready.”

The Balance Sheet Close, also called the Ben Franklin close, in which the salesperson and the prospect build together a pros-and-cons list of whether to buy the product, with the salesperson trying to ensure the pros list is longer than the cons.

The Cradle to Grave Close, in which the salesperson undercuts prospect objections that it is too soon to buy by telling them there is never a convenient time in life to make a major purchase, and they must therefore do it anyway.

The Direct Close, in which the salesperson simply directly asks the prospect to buy. Salespeople are discouraged from using this technique unless they are very sure the prospect is ready to commit.

The Indirect Close, also known as the question close, in which the salesperson moves to the close with an indirect or soft question. “How do you feel about these terms” or “How does this agreement look to you?”

The Minor Point Close, in which the salesperson deliberately gains agreement with the prospect on a minor point, and uses it to assume that the sale is closed. “Would the front door look better painted red? No? Okay, then we’ll leave it the colour it is.”

The Negative Assumption Close, in which the salesperson asks two final questions, repeating them until he or she achieves the sale. “Do you have any more questions for me?” and “Do you see any reason why you wouldn’t buy this product?” This tactic is often used in job interviews.

The Possibility of Loss Close, also known as the pressure close, in which the salesperson points out that failing to close could result in missed opportunity, for example because a product may sell out, or its price rise.

The Puppy Dog Close, in which the salesperson gives the product to the prospect on a trial basis, to test before a sale is agreed upon.

The Sales Contest Close, in which the salesperson offers the prospect a special incentive to close, disarming suspicion with a credible “selfish” justification. “How about if I throw in free shipping? If I make this sale, I’ll win a trip to Spain.”

The Sharp Angle Close, in which the salesperson responds to a prospect question with a request to close. “Can you get the system up and running within two weeks?” and “If I guarantee it, do we have a deal?“

Germans inform. Americans sell.

To persuade is to inform persuasively. Persuasive argumentation guides an audience to its logical conclusion. Selling the conclusion is not necessary.

To persuade is to sell persuasively. Persuasive argumentation leads the audience to a choice. The audience is asked to make a choice.

German Perception
Americans sell. They put on a show. They don‘t persuade. Information is not presented in a professional and expert way. The audience is confronted with either buying or rejecting.
American Perception
Germans inform only. They give academic lectures. They don‘t sell. The audience is left hanging.

Advice to Germans
Overcome your inhibition to recommend a clear choice (your choice) among the options. Ask for the order. The worst that can happen is you‘ll get a „no“. Life will go on.

Advice to Americans
Do not confront your audience with the “buy”-question. Americans can easily come across as “pushy used-cars salesmen”. Take almost a “take it or leave it” attitude.