Monthly Archives: April 2011

Working across cultures – difficult or different or both?

How often do you hear similar sentiments expressed by expat managers and team leaders working across cultures:

  • There is zero initiative among my staff. 
  • No one knows how to follow up and deliver on time – I spend half of my week every week requesting things that have been long overdue!
  • All meetings that I have ever attended have been interrupted by at least one cell phone call – and the recipient always took it!
  • Even though I have a separate office (and close the door!), I find myself constantly interrupted by people dropping in to ask me (or tell me) something.
  • A meeting that should last an hour often goes for 3 hours.  It’s so difficult to get people to stay on topic and come to the point.

These examples of frustrations I hear from clients all point to how difficult – and different – it can be to create something together when working with people from diverse cultures.  The words difficult and different represent two different (no pun intended) perspectives of looking at this challenge.

If we look at it from the point of view of “how difficult” it is and nothing else, frustration, hopelessness, and an overwhelming desire to go home drive all of our actions and responses.

If we look at it as “difficult and different” we open up for the possibility of creating out of the difficult by looking at and considering the differences.  How can we create out of what’s different here?

Creating out of the differences requires not only this open-minded perspective but also a good knowledge of where the differences lie — it requires Culture Mastery:

  • What cultural preferences do you and your colleagues differ on?
  • How big/small is the gap?
  • How possible is it for you to adjust your cultural preferences – that is, will it infringe on your values/identity or will it simply be about changing your habits?
  • What cultural alliances can you create to be more effective?

What has been your experience in creating from the different and the difficult?

NEW at the Global Coach Center: Culture Mastery Course (online) that specifically addresses challenges described in the post above.

Copyright © 2011 by Global Coach Center.  If you’d like to reprint this, please do so but make sure you credit us (with a live link)!

Expats and broken marriages – who is to blame?

There have been a lot of blog posts and articles on the subject of losing a marriage/relationship while living overseas on an expat assignment.  There is even a fictional blogella, masterfully written by the Expat Expert Robin Pascoe, exploring the aftermath of such broken-while-expat marriage.  Heated discussions about who to blame and who should be responsible (a cheating spouse or his/her company) fill many forums — and, while I completely understand our human desire to find someone to blame, I’d like to look at this phenomenon from a different perspective.

Faith Fuller and Marita Fridjhon pioneered the field of relationship coaching that looks at all relationships – be it marriages, teams, partnerships, etc – from the point of view of what is trying to happen vs who is doing what to whom?  They say that systems are naturally generative and intelligent and conflicts within any system signal that some kind of change needs to happen.

If your marriage is entering troubling times during your expat assignment – if you are noticing stress and frustration or if you are perceiving that a distance is growing between you and your spouse or if there is anything at all that makes you question your relationship – stop and try to listen to the voice of the system that is your marriage.  Try to avoid blaming your spouse for going out after work and spending less and less time at home, for traveling a lot, for spending hours with their smartphone and, instead, do the following exercise:

(1) From the perspective of a bird view (or a helicopter), look down and imagine that you are looking at yourself and your spouse.

(2) Notice how you are in relation to each other – are you facing each other, are you turned with your back to each other; what are your facial expressions, etc.

(3)  Looking at yourself, your spouse, and your relationship from high above, answer this question: what is trying to happen here?

(4) Ask your spouse to do the same thing.

(5) Compare notes.

If the system is signaling that a change needs to happen, this change will happen no matter who gets blamed for it.  So your choice here is to help the system achieve the change it needs or ignore the system’s voice and deal with the consequences.

What would you prefer?

A reminder for expat coaches and cross-cultural trainers: include your practice in our International Directory of Expat Coaches and Cross-Cultural Trainers, sorted by country and search-able by city, language, specialty, certification, etc.   At this time our Alexa rank is 900,000 and 105,000 in the US.  Your listing costs only $5 or $8 and it’s for life (not yearly).

Copyright © 2011 by Global Coach Center.  If you’d like to reprint this, please do so but make sure you credit us (with a live link)!

Expats — choosing not to belong or choosing transformation?

When I look at the search words that bring people to my blog, the combination of “why people chose not to belong” comes through again and again.  It seems that making a choice not to belong to a community/group/religion/etc fascinates quite a few.  And so I get curious – are people really choosing not to belong or are they choosing to transform?

When we move abroad, we make a choice.  And while that choice can be influenced by quite a few factors (interesting career move, fascinating culture, financial reward, etc), at the root of that choice lies our innate desire to achieve transformation – to grow and evolve in all (or some) parts of our lives.  So choosing not to belong is really choosing to forego convention and embrace something different.  What I mean is that – choosing not to belong isn’t really about quitting something, it’s about gaining.

Evolution has always been driven by transformation – change, sought and brought about by people, moved our times forward.  And so as we get closer and closer to each other and as we live across cultures, each culture brings about a transformation in us.  By the same token, we bring about transformation in that culture.

So next time you are feeling down and missing the familiar, think of the transformative nature of your experiences and of how these experiences can help you grow, evolve and be at the forefront of the new evolutionary turn.

How has your expat experience been transformative for you?

People who read this post also enjoyed:

To expat or not to expat: 3 tips that can help you decide

To belong or not to belong: is that the choice we make when we move abroad?

Your identity in expatriation: will it stay or will it go?

Copyright © 2011 by Global Coach Center.  If you’d like to reprint this, please do so but make sure you credit us (with a live link)!