In the German business context small talk is small, meaning short in duration. The Germans prefer to transition rather quickly to issues of substance, from small to big talk. They see little value in talking about the weather, sports or what they did in their most recent vacation.
In the American business context small talk is an essential part of communication. Small talk gets the communication going, it „greases the wheels.“ It also allows each person to get a sense for how the other people are doing, their mood, the overall atmosphere.
Americans seldom jump directly into the business subject matter. For Americans business is always to certain degree a personal matter. In fact, Americans prefer to work with people they like, and who like them.
Germans are aware that small talk in the U.S. is important. There are even books and seminars teaching the art of small talk. Nonetheless, Germans get impatient with American small talk. It takes up valuable time. They begin to check their watches. For Germans it is not a must to be a personal friend with the people they do business with. In fact, they can do business with people they don‘t like. Friendly relations are nice, but not a requirement.
Brief German small talk can seem obligatory, as if they were just „going through the motions.“ Their sudden transition from casual conversation to serious topics is for Americans a sign of impatience. The Germans, unfortunate and unintended, can come across as impersonal and unfriendly. And who wants to work with unfriendly people? Americans don‘t.
Advice to Germans
All American relationships, including those in the business context, are personal. If it isn‘t personal, it isn‘t a relationship. Small talk is the most basic form of how Americans maintain communication. Learn how to do it. You can. Just go with the flow. Open yourself up. Get a bit more personal. If you have good rapport, you‘ll move through the business topics much more quickly, and in that way save time.
Advice to Americans
Keep small talk to a minimum. Listen carefully for signals when the Germans want to move from small to big talk. This is not a sign of disinterest, of being impersonal or unfriendly. The Germans get personal in non-business settings, at lunch, dinner, on the weekends. They have a great sense of humor, have all sorts of hobbies and interests outside of work.
And keep in mind, that Germans can and will do business with you even if you have little or no personal relationship. Most importantly, they want to know if you are good at what you do. Personal is nice. Professional is better.