Culture clash in Jamaica

    Chefredakteur Ian McMaster
    Von Ian McMaster


    Last Friday (17 November), I spent the day at the Expolingua language trade fair(Handels-)Messetrade fair in Berlin, for which Spotlight Verlag was a media partner.

    Two days later in the same city, coalition talks aimed at creating a new German government to break downscheiternbroke down.

    For the past month, representatives of the conservative CDU/CSU parties (colour: black), the free-market FDP (colour: yellow) and the environmental Green party (colour: it’s obvious) have been trying to reach agreement on a programme for to runhier: regierenrunning Germany over the next four years.

    The black-yellow-green “Jamaica” talks failed partly because there were major differences on key policyPolitik; hier: politischpolicy issueThema, Frageissues such as energy, taxationSteuerntaxation and the treatment of asylum seekerAsylsuchende(r)asylum seekers and their families.

    But it is clear that there were also important culture clashAufeinanderprallen der Kulturenculture clashes during the negotiationVerhandlungnegotiations.

    Culture clashes? Weren’t all the politicians German? Indeed they were or else they wouldn’t have been able to to stand for electionsich zur Wahl stellenstand for election. But there are many other aspects of culture apart from national ones. We can talk of regional cultures, organizational cultures, departmentalAbteilungs-departmental cultures, genderGeschlechtgender cultures, age cultures and many more.

    There were important culture clashes during the coalition negotiations

    One definition of culture is “the ways we do things around here”. And there were very different ways of doing things in the coalition talks. On the basis of what the politicians said after the talks had broken down, there were key differences on these issues:

    • Who exactly should be involved in taking decisions, a small group of negotiatorVerhandlungsführer(in)negotiators or a larger group of party representatives?
    • Is a decision final when it has been taken? Or can decisions be to revisit sth.etw. überprüfenrevisited and the discussion opened up again?

    The parties had clearly failed to do the necessary preparatoryvorbereitendpreparatory work of discussing their different approachVorgehensweise; hier: Haltungapproaches/cultures at the start and agreeing on a common procedure for their talks. They also failed to agree on major points of principle before to dive into etw. eintauchen; hier: zu etw. übergehendiving into detailed discussions.

    These are basic mistakes that are also often found in the business world. A competent, neutral moderator can also help in such negotiations. I am not aware that the coalition talks had such a moderator. They should have had one.

    Key themes at the Expolingua trade fair were intercultural understanding and intercultural competence. It’s a shame the coalition negotiators didn’t visit the trade fair before their final round of talks. They would certainly have learned something useful.


    Ian McMaster

    Ian McMaster is editor-in-chief of Business Spotlight. You can contact him via
    In his blog, Ian McMaster has been commenting on global business issues since 2002. For older entries, see the blog archive on our former website.