When communicating, the American is listening for signs that his or her individual accomplishments have been noted and appreciated: a compliment, a positive tone of voice, some evidence that the other person is impressed is what he or she is expecting.
The American, however, is not likely to get much attention from some of their overseas counterparts who have different expectations.
For an American, individual performance is acknowledged and rewarded. However, in many cultures, performance acknowledgment is group oriented, group rewarded and group focused, not individually focused.
Because of these differing attitudes, American leaders are sometimes viewed by persons from other cultures as being arrogant. This is a false assumption.
In turn, Americans may tend to view people from group oriented cultures as being weak, which is also a false assumption.
What is your focus?
Thriving in Foreign Cultures
Adjusting to a new culture involves two major transitions:
The experience of moving overseas quickly changes once arriving to your new destination. What seemed like an exotic experience soon becomes boring. After the romance and adventure of living in a new country passes, negative feelings begin to surface. These feelings are called “culture shock.” Culture shock comes on gradually, it happens to everyone while on a global assignment, it is inescapable, but if recognized in time, culture shock could become a valuable learning experience that leads to growth for those who experience it.
To help you build an awareness of culture shock, I will ask that you think back to previous moves, or job changes. Try to remember what you experienced, what it felt like and what you learned.
Answer the following questions and gain new insights:
Global Organizational Thoughts
When choosing leaders for global assignments the #1 question that comes to mind is:
“How will I know the leader I am considering for the global assignment will be a good fit?”
Most organizations have a plan for this; they go through a series of meetings with the executive and their family members. These meetings get conducted during one or more dinner engagements. The HR director, together with the leader’s boss will meet with the executive and with one or two of their family members to try to ascertain if things will work out.
Dinner engagements can reveal a lot, but usually they tell you little about how a family will cope while on an assignment. Why? Because most people will not know how they are going to feel and function in a new culture until they arrive there.
I was hired by an organization to help a leader after he and his family had been in the country for 5 months. When I spoke with the leader the first thing he said to me was, “I think I need to go back home, I made a mistake accepting this position, we are very unhappy. If you can’t help my family, I will leave the company, my family is more important to me than my job.”
After meeting the leader’s family I learned that the spouse felt abandoned. Everyone in the family had someplace to be every day. Her husband has his office to go to, her children had school to tend to, she, however, was home alone all day, felt like a prisoner, she was lonely, and missed her family back home. After helping her family get off to their respective places, she had nothing to do and no one to talk to.
Her children were feeling confused and started to feel unhappy; they did not know how to act in school. They felt frustrated; and were struggling with trying to fit into a new learning curriculum. They had questions like, how to study and write essays, how to participate in class and how to handle peer pressure and still make friends.
The executive started to worry and felt guilty for making everyone so unhappy. After all, he said, “If I had not accepted this position my family would be okay.”
I worked with each family member individually. The spouse learned how to make friends in the United States and how to pursue her interests. She enjoyed gardening so she joined the local garden club. Later she joined the school’s PTA and started volunteering at her children’s school. She also enrolled at the local community college and took some adult courses. After a few weeks she began to feel better.
The children learned how to study for an American school. They explored peer pressure differences and learned how to make new friends. They practiced and role played with me in a safe environment and gained the confidence they needed to succeed in school.
Once the family was settled, the executive’s performance at work improved. He felt pleased, and told me they were living the life they envisioned when they first arrived.
So now, back to the number 1 question I am most asked about a potential candidate: “How will I know the leader I am considering for a global assignment is a good fit?”
Understand that the answer may not be immediately visible, but if you provide pre-departure cultural awareness services for your leaders and their family members and continue providing on-going support long after the last box is unpacked; you will find that you not only made the right choice, but as an organization, you positioned the company for global growth