Competence in the workplace: at home and abroad

As mentioned in a previous post, I feel as though collaboration and communication are more effectively influential in the workplace here as compared to my (perhaps unique) experiences back at home. In my internship experience at evenson GmbH, I feel that having strength in these skills is more heavily emphasized. Not necessarily in purely a group-thought mentality, but in the sense that each voice and opinion is sought after and valued. As a newcomer to this company, and as a low-level intern, this has made me feel more confident and welcomed than perhaps other experiences I’ve had back at home. Having a certain sense of cultural and diversity awareness, in terms of language barriers and ethnic differences, is also important to developing greater empathy in more professional contexts and settings. I feel as though my coworkers here have a better understanding of this. Perhaps that’s due to how integral cultural and ethnic diversity is to European culture as a whole. 

In continuously analyzing and examining generalizations and preconceived notions of German work and social culture, I have found some stereotypes to be both true and untrue. In my office, I find that the work environment is very focused on technological communication, as well as in-person, face-to-face interaction. I see a strong focus on collaborative meetings and communication through discussion. In this sense, the stereotype of Germans as quiet and intensely work-driven hasn’t quite lived up for me. The interactions I’ve had and observed have been consistently more productive than communication I’ve experienced in internships and work back at home. For example, prior to this summer program, I worked at a law firm as a legal intern. Most communication was done through the computer or on a headset. The interns and lower-level workers on the totem pole were left to navigate the office environment by themselves. Emphasis on strong, healthy, and trusting relationships with coworkers wasn’t so much an important concept as getting as much work done as possible. 

Before arriving here, I often heard that Germans placed a high importance on being quick and efficient. However, in my workplace experience, though efficiency of work is important, it’s not placed solely at the top of the list. Coworkers in my office tend to take several coffee breaks throughout the day, occasionally leave early or come in later, and chat very frequently. Emphasis is placed on quality above efficiency, as well as having a healthy office environment and atmosphere. I have keenly noticed that there exists a sort of all-around respect and trust for independence. All of my coworkers are incredibly bright and determined workers; the social hierarchy and competitiveness that so heavily influence American work culture don’t seem to be critical attributes of the work culture here in Berlin. This has honestly felt like a relief at times, and the reduced stress has made working more enjoyable. 

I think when it comes to the biggest challenges in terms of professional and cultural differences in Berlin, communication has certainly pushed me out of my comfort zone. Despite the obvious language barrier of not speaking the German language, I also feel a need to occasionally filter and think about what I want to say before saying it. Perhaps this is in part because of my inherent introversion. But I think it is also a result of the cross cultural and language differences. Germans do have a noticeable tendency to be more direct when communicating. The very sensitive, trigger-warning language in the States is certainly not a thing here. They say it as it is. One must understand however, that there is no intention to harm or offend. The emphasis on critique and areas for correcting or improving showcase the focus on quality of work. Whereas back at home, there is often too much (in my opinion) an emphasis on making workers feel good about the work they’re doing—complimenting always before critiquing or disagreeing. 

My first impressions of my coworkers have only grown and expanded upon my initial observations. From meeting them, I saw them to be very determined, self-driven, and hard-workers. Each colleague is bright and intelligent in their own right, contributing diverse skills to the table. I believe this to be one of the reasons why collaboration and communication are strengths of this company’s office environment. Aside from work itself, they engage in very intellectually and politically stimulating conversations, and often strive to interact over lunch and coffee breaks. I have interacted with them outside the office environment several times—most days for lunch and also a couple of times for drinks after work. It’s an easy group to talk to, and they have made me feel fairly welcome over the past several weeks. Lunches allow for personal time to learn about their backgrounds, where they went to university, what they studied, what experiences they’ve had, and what advice they have to share, etc. Getting drinks those few times truly made me feel part of the company regardless of the overall short duration of this internship. I hope I can take from many of the experiences I’ve had here in Berlin and implement aspects of the work culture I see to be beneficial into further internships and jobs I take on.