“We like problems” … “We like opportunities”

“Hair in the soup”

“The hair in the soup” is a German figure of speech which describes well German Problembewusstsein – literally: problem-consciousness. “To look for a hair in the soup” goes even further, describing the strong German inclination to look for problems even in areas where they are not likely to exist.

Problembewußtsein

Germans focus on problems. The more difficult, complex and serious the problem, the better. Problembewusstsein means literally problem consciousness. In order to persuade Germans of a course of action, they first need to be persuaded that the presenter has fully understood the problem, in its depth and breadth. First identify, understand, analyze, then solve the problem.

A major criticism in Germany is to have not – or not adequately – understood the problem. The Germans often say: Das müssen Sie differenzierter sehen meaning “You need to see the situation in a more differentiated way.” Differenziert also means sophisticated. This is their way of saying that one thinks too simplistically. The implication is that they are more intelligent, their problem consciousness more developed. To be intelligent in the German context means to be problem-aware and -oriented.

Opportunities in Problems

Americans recognize that problems are an inescapable part of life. Physicist Albert Einstein said that “in the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.” Americans, practical and optimistic, believe that  “every cloud has a silver lining,” that there’s a “light at the end of every tunnel.” They see a half-full glass which others view as half-empty.

Instead of dwelling on the problem as such, Americans quickly begin the search for opportunities hidden in a given problem. Difficult situations often require making difficult choices. To be persuasive is to demonstrate that you have searched for and identified an opportunity.

To be persuasive in the German context focus explicitly on the problem. Germans know implicitly that when you solve a problem you have created an opportunity. In the U.S. do the opposite. Focus explicitly on the opportunity. Americans know implicitly that you are addressing a problem.

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