Tag Archives: intercultural

Back from the SIETAR Europa Congress in Dublin, I would like to share a small story with you. I wanted to tell you how I started to become an intercultural practitioner. Picture the island of Crete, Greece. It’s a hot sunny day and you see me at the age of 9 years. First I play in the sand. Then I decide to take my air mattress and go into the water despite the jellyfish and other small monsters in the sea.

I observe and hear a girl in my age talking and I recognize that this is a different language. I assume she speaks English and my father confirms this assumption. Since I am really bored of playing with my little sister all the time I try to confront the alien.

I make eye contact and we begin to talk. We play in the water and exchange useful information on our families. This is one of the happiest holidays in my life.

At the time my knowledge of the language was very limited as we only had a pre-course in English. At primary school, we gave ourselves funny English names (I was Judy) and sang songs in English such as Old McDonald’s had a farm. My new friend was Nancy from London. Singing songs was a good start but we wanted more. We became pen friends. Funnily, we wrote each other letters for years. We both got into horse riding and she became a real friend. (This was obviously long before we had social media, the Internet and all that…).

Nancy and I never met in person afterward even though I spent a long time in London after High School. One day, we just lost track of each other. I often wondered what happened to her and what is doing now, if she is still alive and if she is happy.

For me, Nancy had been a strong motivator to learn and improve English. Foreign languages came easily to me because I saw the benefit so early in my life.
So, first of all, I want to thank Nancy for that and I want to thank my parents for exposing me to international people so early in life. We also had a Turkish foster child and traveled to many countries in Europe.

Secondly, I would like to tell you that you might be “Nancy” to someone else. When you help another person from a different culture improve your native language such as French or German, when you speak up against racist remarks or when you are simply that one friend that is a bit different than all the others. When you stick around and stay in the relationship even though it might have become a bit stale or when you are the one who picks up the phone or writes the letter to the friend, who thinks you have forgotten all about him and her.

Tell me if you have anyone in your life that you would like to re-connect with across borders and how it felt when you did.

Kind regards
Angie Weinberger

My favorite bloggers write as if they are talking to me. I feel I know them. Great writing is a skill bloggers have shaped for years before anyone reads their posts. In our communication in companies we often write less perfect.

We have not learnt in university how to write an email that another person will understand. In my school, there was no course on business communication but we learnt a lot of crap about marketing.

We do not write English at a level where engage a native speaker. Most native speakers will find errors in our emails and probably find your style rude (German) or long-winded (French).

We perform anyway. We pride ourselves with the average number of emails we digest every day. Despite more communication there is less understanding.

Do we see a major change or has the shift happened and we feel the consequences? What is the change in the global society that influences us, creates ambiguity and sleepless nights?

The funny haired propaganda talkers of this world fuel the illusion (or delusion?), that if we all sat together with the people who look like us, talk like us and think like us, everything that is “wrong” with the world (economic challenges, unemployment, hate, scarcity of resources, war) would go away.

(#Bazinga)

You and I know that that we can only change the world if we model the behavior we wish to see in others. Only action creates change. (Thank you Mr. Gandhi)

Ask yourself: Can you reduce your emails and act instead?

Consider yourself privileged

Clare Joy and I held a workshop on Saturday for the CapacityZurich Refugee and Migrant Business Mentoring Program called “Building relationships and Enhancing Business Communications”. We held the workshop in English and German and most of our participants were native speakers of a third mother tongue. It required rethinking for me. We worked with a volunteer translator Viola Zoller (who did an amazing job) and Clare and I learnt to pause. We all spoke slower than normal and I noticed that even though we did a good job it was hard to keep everyone engaged.

The workshop made me understand once again how privileged I am, that I had the chance to live in English-speaking countries and learn the language at a level where I can now work in English. It also made me aware how we often exclude people based on a lack of language proficiency, how we do not take them seriously if their grammar is flawed or their pronunciation hard to understand.

I encourage you to watch your own behavior around others who are not in the culturally dominant group. I promise that I will try even harder to listen to anybody and to speak slow and use simple language.

 

by Angie Weinberger

Multinational companies in Switzerland promote an “inclusive” culture. All people regardless of their religious or cultural background should have the same opportunities within the company. While I often hear that Switzerland is so intercultural as it has four different language regions and lies in the middle of Europe I experience a different reality. In public discussions we speak about differences but we hardly touch pragmatic solutions for helping each other to get along. Here are 13 easy to implement ideas to make your Muslim employees feel more included in your workforce.

At the bottom of inclusiveness is intercultural competence or as I call it “Global Leadership Competency”. Last year, one of my Muslim clients was attacked in the tram (local train) because she was wearing a headscarf. She and her husband had just moved into Basel from Dubai, United Arab Emirates. She then decided not to wear a headscarf and to speak German in public. She is fluent as she grew up in Germany. One of my colleagues told me about an African-American who is scared to leave his house because he is constantly asked for his papers and stared at. He wears a beard and his religious background is not Muslim but he feels treated like a terrorist here.

Another one of my US clients who is of Malaysian decent asked me why he is constantly asked for his residence permit these days. And I heard many other stories from friends who just happen to have a Pakistani, Indian or Tunisian background. Most of them are well-educated professionals who could work anywhere in the world.

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We help our clients to gain their confidence back. We point out that Switzerland is an open country with a long history of religious freedom. That includes the freedom to not believe in anything at all. We raise the intercultural competence of the employees in the companies we work with but we cannot reach every single person in the country. I am embarrassed when I hear such stories.

We wish for our clients to be received with open arms in everyday life and in the companies they work for irrespective of their cultural and religious background.

Since 2000, I observed that many global companies develop intercultural competence of their staff and managers mainly through training and legislative minimum standards. While this is better than nothing it is not enough. In Switzerland, the current trend in diversity training is to uncover our “unconscious bias”, i.e how our unconscious stereotypes affect our hiring and promotion decisions. We tend to like people who look like us, think like us, behave like us come from backgrounds similar to ours. This is also called the Mini-Me syndrome.

I don’t see many discussions in corporations around intercultural, interracial and inter-religious differences and commonalities. The main reason is that outside of intercultural training these differences tend to be seen as personal differences more often than cultural differences. Once there is a conflict it is often attributed to the individual rather than cultural background. Or the other way round: Negative judgements are attributed to the cultural background rather than the individual behavior. Hardly anyone I know has enough knowledge to even distinguish between a stereotype and a cultural tendency.

We should encourage intercultural discussions more often. Awareness creates acceptance in a multicultural environment. In Tourism, we tackle customers differently according to their cultural background. In companies we can provide a discrimination-free environment and welcome everyone with open arms by considering a few minor but effective adjustments.

1) Religion is a private matter of every employee which should not have to do anything with her or his work performance. If we focus our assessments on performance rather than person we are on a good track.

2) Muslims might need short breaks to pray. If we use a trust-based time management system rather than strict time control we can ensure that the religious minorities get the prayer time during the day.

3) In hospitals physician must learn rules which have to be observed by Muslims especially when a man treats a women. In case of doubt ask the patient.

4) In tourism we need to learn what is important to client from the United Arab Emirates or Saudi Arabia for example as with the ban of burqas we might not be able to serve those clients in Switzerland any longer.

5) In the police we need to ensure that we are moving away from stereotyping and get a clear understanding of why many young man feel overburdened with the life in another culture while their families at home depend on their financial support.

6) As therapists and other health care professionals we need to learn how trauma of war and being alone when you come from a collectivist cultural background might affect your psyche. We also need to understand that counseling might not be a concept in many of the home cultures of Muslim employees (assuming they did not grow up in Europe or the US).

7) We need to differentiate the social classes of the person we speak to. If you have an Islamic banker or a writer who had fled from Afghanistan, then you are likely to have no misunderstandings because you can communicate with both in German or English. But if you talk to a less educated colleague who has just arrived in Switzerland and does not yet speak the language well, then of course you will need to simplify your language and use techniques to check in if he or she understands you. Avoid to speak in child language and use proper German or English when speaking.

8) We need to train our staff members at authorities, medical assistants, personal assistants and company receptionists to deal with cultural differences better.

9) We can get the basics for inclusion right. It is also important for Jews, Hindus, Jains and many other religious minorities to know what they eat and drink. You can install signs in the canteen and explain what is in the food. You can offer one halal meat dish. At cocktail parties you can show which drinks contain alcohol and explain that everyone is welcome even if they don’t like wine.

10) We can approve extended holidays over Muslim festivals to fly or drive home. Adapt your company’s HR policy to provide more flexibility for different religious holidays.

11) We can congratulate Muslims on their holidays. In the fasting month of Ramadan allow shorter working hours.

12) We can provide prayer and meditation rooms to our staff. It helps all staff members to have quite zones where they can contemplate, pray or simply meditate in these hectic times.

13) We can provide more vocational training and internship opportunities to refugees and asylum seekers. Many refugees do not have formal qualifications and will fall through the roster of our recruitment processes but we could see how they work if we provide more internships and vocational training to them.

I hope that these 13 pragmatic ideas will help you to build an environment in which your Muslim employees feel more included. If you would like more customized advice please contact me at angela@globalpeopletransitions.com.

 

 

1614536_868176393233507_360610002990611923_oOver the last twenty years in Human Resources I noticed that a lot of international talents were frustrated in the process of moving to another country for work. It was not only because their companies paid them another package than what they expected. It was also because a lot of international assignee underestimated the challenge of moving to another country.

For example expats moving to Switzerland often think it will be easier to find affordable childcare, high-quality apartments and a job for their “trailing” spouse. Most expats believe it will be easy to learn the local language (or they even think we speak English). Most expats believe that they are going to have a great career step after their repatriation.

I have seen a lot of anger when assignees went to another country and when they returned home and did not get that promotion or the role they were hoping for. Regularly, I have clients break out in tears because they feel overwhelmed by the international assignment experience. When I worked in India and when I moved to Switzerland I also shed tears. It was not all “Bollywood” or “Chocolat”.

When I started Global People Transitions GmbH in 2012 I was convinced that an international assignment does not have to be a painful experience. I believed that companies can improve their international assignments. I believed that you can have a great experience when you move to a new country. I believed that you can find work you care about – no matter where you are in the world.

So I wrote a vision statement

“We aspire peace and prosperity for all people! Through global mobility expertise, executive coaching and intercultural training our clients build sustainable relationships across the globe and act as responsible leaders.”

Angela Weinberger,
Global People Transitions – Our Vision 2012

And then I developed experience with coaching

In Global People Transitions we have three major goals.

1) We help international professionals to find work they care about.

2) We help global leaders to drive team performance.

3) We work with Global Mobility Professionals to improve their consulting and communication skills.

How do we do this?

We now have four established programs and can also customize workshops for your specific needs.

How much do we charge for these programs?

We have standard rates and are happy to send you our price list.

Who you get in touch with?

It’s time to introduce myself. In the typical German style I talk business first, then I tell you more about myself. My name is Angie Weinberger. I am the founder, owner and main contact at Global People Transitions GmbH.

Please email to angela@globalpeopletransitions.com for any queries or call me at +41797944896.

What is the Global People Club Sandwich?

We write a blog post about international assignments and expat life for the Global People “Club Sandwich” once a week. You will receive a monthly summary of all posts if sign up to our “Global People Club”.

What is the Global People Club?

The Global People Club is a community of international professionals and former clients of mine who wish to continue the discussion about all topics related to an international career and intercultural communication. You find our group on Facebook and you automatically become a member once you sign up to our Club Sandwich.

How you can write for us

If you would like to write for us please contact me directly.