Providing Psychological Safety in a BANI World

Yellow flowers in a square at Lake Zurich

Providing Psychological Safety in a BANI World

The present war in Ukraine has reminded us how our world’s stability is all but relative and fragile. Just another sign of this BANI (Brittle, Anxious, Non-Linear, Incomprehensible) World. As if the humanitarian situation in Ukraine was not enough in itself, the rest of Europe and the world will definitely feel the earthquake aftershocks because of our ever-growing interconnectedness that condemns us all to food and energy security failures and negative impact on general trade. 

The sheer size of the catastrophe is a major factor that contributes to the prevailing anxiety and adds to the confusing complexity of our nonlinear world: the multiple causes and impacts (even the yet unforeseen consequences that will or could eventually occur). The overflow of information (information, disinformation, as well as misinformation) and the growing complexity of our world render this situation and the whole world more difficult to comprehend, predict, and control.

The BANI World

Jamais Cascio, the author who coined “BANI world” wrote “[a] sizable share of those of us who work in the field of imagining the future often struggle with […] a difficulty in seeing our world in anything other than an apocalyptic frame. It’s not because we want it this way, but because other framings seem inadequate or false. The danger of this urge is that it can easily become a trigger for surrender, a slipstream into despair. Through all this, we believe that we can do something to improve the situation, and if not the whole wide world’s situation, at least our own.”

According to Cascio, “For each problematic aspect of our BANI world, there is maybe not so much a solution, but a way to react, that might help us and others better manage the situation itself and our emotions and stress that ensues from it. When something is brittle, it requires capacity and resilience. When we feel anxious, we need empathy and mindfulness. Non-linear circumstances need context and adaptivity. And what are incomprehensible calls for transparency and intuition? Everyone can do their share and extend empathy and mindfulness. As for context and transparency, we believe it is everyone’s responsibility to verify the veracity of the information they share (may it be in person or on social media). This contributes to limiting the misinformation impacting our confusion and anxiety.”

A year ago, the concept of BANI was just that. A concept. Today, it’s a reality that we all feel in our bodies. You might have woken up last week with a taste of iron in your mouth. The earth might have felt a bit shaky when you went out after you heard about the invasion of Ukraine or the Hamaz attack in Israel.

A few days later you might be lying in your bed crying, feeling like you can’t face another day in this world. You went through all the phases of grief described by Elisabeth Kuebler-Ross in her famous book On Death and Dying (1969).

If you have never seen a difference between something that you understand with your mind, but not with your body then this is your next leadership lesson. For example, I was able to explain “intercultural leadership” or “transactional analysis” in my late 20ies but I only experienced body sensations in my late 30ies. 

I knew for a long time that there are people who are relationship-oriented, rather than task-oriented, but I only experienced this when I went to India back in 2006. 

Last week I went from shocked to angry to crisis mode. My German default took over. I gave (friendly) orders, and advice and pushed an agenda for providing psychological safety in this situation. Today I’m ready to grieve and process. For most of last week, I felt pain in my back and my shoulders. This is a trigger, a body sensation I know too well. It’s a mix of feeling overwhelmed and anxious, feeling left alone with the burden of responsibility and having to stand up and do it anyway. Even if your voice is shaking, even if you are criticized, even if you are told to keep in your lane, and despite the inner critic that tells you: “This will not end well.” and the inner Gollum (your worry monster) who also tells you “We’re all gonna die anyway, so why bother”. 

Here are five practices for your own psychological safety and to practice failure culture.

They also help your people stand up for what they believe in, have a voice, and be heard. 

1 – The Daily Fail

My great friend Inge Nitsche, CEO and Chair of Expatise Academy is using a “memotrainer” and the way it works is that you are continuously asked questions until you get them right. The retention of this kind of training is exponentially higher than other training methods as people are told that their MISTAKES ARE GOOD

The more you get wrong, the faster you fail, and the higher your improvement score and learning curve. Yes, this is frustrating, but it works. And I believe that I would like to practice that now. Because: As I recently told one of you “We’re not in high school anymore.”

I admit that I failed at giving psychological safety and it made me consider what I could do to role model the behavior behind it and how I could approach this topic with a growth mindset. I am working on an experiment I would like to share with you: Every day, I am allowing myself to admit one fail by saying or writing it down. Then I correct the mistake or I try to understand where I was wrong or on the wrong path. This is hard, because I’m used to being in an “Expert” role and it is very unusual behavior in a FEAR CULTURE but I will try it anyway, because if I allow myself to make mistakes and to correct mistakes, then others will see that it is okay to show that you are not perfect and that learning only happens in an environment where it is okay to fail even if it is just in small doses.

2 – The Broken Record 

Another experiment is the “Broken Record”. If I identify an issue that needs change, I will address the issue again and again, especially when I feel that I had not been heard in the past. This way, through repetition, I will either learn that I was wrong about my assumptions OR if I was right that maybe other people learn in a different way and that I need to give them the time to catch up. 

It’s also helpful to address the issues that you wish to flag at various angles and find friends that you trust who will help you spread the message.

 

3 – The Daily Agile

You probably know that this is one of my principles and for a long time one of my priorities because I am also a fan of the Agile Manifesto. So, I usually prioritize my clients over anyone else, but I also prioritize people over processes and tasks. This principle helps to focus on what is important at the moment. If you are unsure whether you should draft a contract, update your HR System, or listen to an anxious colleague or team member and you apply the agile manifesto you never doubt yourself. Follow your inner guidance here.

4 – The ZEN Workspace

Without order outside there is no order within. Working from home a lot we now keep our home even cleaner than before and maintain a few ZEN practices to ensure that order is maintained on a daily basis. You can apply ZEN practices to your workspace, your desktop, your data, your filing system, and your KANBAN. If you get overwhelmed by chaos, you can always work on your system and find a system or backup plan that supports you. It could even be a paper binder or a laminated checklist. Make it a habit to clean up every day. Keep order outside and clear your clutter regularly. I find this usually gives me peace and calm. Even folding the laundry or cleaning my shoes can help there.

5 – The Rollercoaster

When I get up in the morning thinking “This will be a quiet day and I can finally get a bit of admin done” there’s a high probability that the day will end up with laser swords, magic wands, and fighting the dark force. We can handle many things when we are centered and calm, but it’s better to be prepared at any time when the next crisis is just around the corner. Charge your smartphone. Pack a backpack. Wear comfortable clothes. Get fit. Be ready to run.

“Do or do not. There is no try.” 

YODA

This is now a chapter in “The Global Rockstar Album”.

The Global Rockstar Album

Do you Want to Live a Life Full of Purpose?

Purpose

Did you just have another day where you cleaned up your desk, wondered what you had achieved today, and got home to a stack of dishes, a pile of clothes, and a crying son? Did you spend last night driving your daughter to SCUBA class, squeezed in a conference call, and forgot that it was your mother’s birthday? Did you then at 11 PM sit down thinking “Why am I not moving on with my life?”Often we think we are too busy to do the right thing, the Ph.D. we want to start, the Master’s we want to finish, the weight loss program, and the healthy nutrition we want to implement. We keep ourselves too busy to meet a new partner.

We play safe and the older we get the less risk we are willing to take. Often we spend our time doing the wrong stuff. Sometimes there are good reasons to hang onto a job, a client, or even a marriage. Sometimes hanging in there is part of the deal (“…for better or worse…”) but there is also a fine line between going through rough patches and self-destruction.In the past, I also got stuck in a story that I have been telling myself for the longest time. I have achieved balance in my life through continuous learning and weekly practices. And to speak like a true ZEN master: It’s the practice, not the achievement that makes it important for me. 

After you have been exposed to this pandemic and the anxiety in the world you probably lie awake at night thinking about the latest argument with your manager, the constant nagging of your spouse about living “here” and your teenager trying to find their identity as an artist.You sometimes spiral down into the rabbit hole of worry and your inner Gollum starts telling you all the critical feedback you have received EVER as if you are Arya Stark and had to remember every man who was ever bad in the world. If you feel like this (even on the odd occasion) I would like to invite you to the following sanity maintenance practices to finding purpose.

1 – Press the Pause Button

You might not know how to do this but I will teach you. For those of you who are following our programs you probably understand that maintaining a weekly practice helps you in the process of being more satisfied with your achievements. 

2 – Plugin Your Purpose Batteries

For some of you, reconnecting with your purpose sounds too difficult to even get started. Maybe you thought you had defined your purpose clearly but now you have doubts. Is that really the reason why you are in the world? Is this the area of work and life where you can influence the world the most for the better or are you just in this for the status, the money, and the company car? Is your reason for this international move the next career step in Caracas or is it the housing allowance and the package your company pulled together?

3 – Divorce Work from Your Self-Worth

When I speak to some of you I understand that work plays a very important role in your life but so does your spouse, your children, parents, siblings, and friends. You are more than a breadwinner and after having been in the corporate world for such a long time and having made it here, don’t you think you deserve to focus more on your important relationships? Don’t you deserve to sip rosé in the Biergarten at Zurichhorn on a Saturday? Open-air movies with your loved ones on a school night?

4 – Kill Your Inner Corporate Zombie

You do not have to be a corporate zombie either. The company pays you to deliver 42 hours of work (in Switzerland). All productivity research shows that our productivity declines after six hours of focused work. Potentially, we need to deconstruct the 42-hour workweek as it was designed for industrial workers, not knowledge workers, let alone our new breed of Digital Nomads. Money has a limited value. When basic needs are met, the rest is a luxury, and no pair of shoes, no holiday, and no luxury car will replace your health, your happiness, or time spent with your ailing elders. What is it that you truly need? Have you ever worked out how much money is enough? I mentioned in a previous blog post “The Digital Nomad – Part 1” that we’re growing my company organically. I was inspired by creator Paul Jarvis and his book “Company of One”. Paul takes off time during the summer and winter when he thinks he made enough money for the year.

 

https://globalpeopletransitions.com/the-digital-nomad-part-1/

 

Five Steps for a Safe and Inclusive Environment for Expats

inclusive environment for expats

Five Steps for a Safe and Inclusive Environment for Expats

We talked about why building professional relationships is harder for expats. Now let’s discuss another side of the coin – how to create an inclusive environment for expats. If you were Dr. Rainer Schulz you’d probably ask yourself what you could do to build a safe and collaborative environment with people from different cultures.

1 – Deal with your Gollum

If you are an expat leader and want to create an environment where people trust each other, you will need to show vulnerability and role-model trustworthy behavior. If you wish to be trusted you might have to show your weaknesses, your Achilles’ heel, and let your team know how they can best support you. You might have to explain what triggers your emotional side, and what makes you feel weak. You might even have to accept that you are not a superhero and that nobody apart from your “Gollum” is expecting this of you. My advice is that you seek coaching to work with the inner critic and put him in his cot.

2 – Work on your Implicit Assumptions and Biases

It could also be that you have formed assumptions about the host culture or about certain behaviors that are not appropriate and could end up impacting your relationship with your international team.
One way to address this is to bring up your implicit assumptions for discussion in a learning environment. This gives you the opportunity to not only correct your biases but also learn more about the host culture and its nuances. In my view, it always helps to attend intercultural competence development training.

3 – Reduce your Language Complex

Moving to another culture often comes with a form of language limitation. It could be that the host language is entirely different than your mother tongue or that you are speaking the same language with a different accent and different cultural references. For example, American English often uses references from Baseball in every slang, which doesn’t translate into our context in Europe.

Sometimes even a small difference in how you pronounce a word can create an entirely different meaning for a sensitive listener. Humor, sarcasm or irony often do not translate so well and we haven’t even discussed the pace of speech, tone of voice, the use of silence, and interruptions. I try to listen more in conversations and take notes and often I have a hard time then to say something right away without the proper reflection time.

The older I get, the more introverted I feel and I find it quite hard to follow a meeting. I prefer to express myself through the written word. So, often I walk out of a meeting a bit lost. Maybe you know this feeling. I wish sometimes I could respond faster but the trouble is that knowing everything I know I need proper reflection time to come up with a good solution. My brain goes in overdrive.

You could make an effort to learn the host language better, use common phrases, get the dialect right and pronounce names correctly. This requires that you learn the names of everyone; from your clients, team members, and colleagues, to the receptionist and mail person.

4 – Accept Diverse Working Styles

Effective global teams allow for a variety of working styles and priority settings. However, many managers prefer to work with staff members who function like them. Unconsciously they find it easier. You can move out of your comfort zone and discuss differences in style with your team members directly. You could also address your preferences and request that team members accommodate your style to a certain degree or you could agree on the checkpoints that you need in order to feel safe.

Also, if you prefer to be included in certain communications you should address that. When you are in your first 90 days with your new team in the host company, I recommend a symbolic kick-off meeting where you discuss roles and responsibilities, collaboration rules and principles and develop the short-term action plan together (assuming you move to a participatory, egalitarian culture such as Switzerland or Holland).

5 – Co-create Culture-Appropriate Roadmaps

Nowadays, discussing vision and mission is often perceived as an alibi exercise by management as the pace of change hardly allows for a long-term vision.

Hence, I recommend you focus more on the next six months and weekly actions to get closer to your vision. You should still create a vision board for yourself and maybe paint a picture or write about your vision. You could also write a mission statement for your area of responsibility. For your team, though it is probably more important that you are fully present, your best self, and have their back when they need you.

Check out my latest publication: “The Global Rockstar Album” for expat managers who want to bring purpose, performance, and productivity to their work while becoming more inclusive servant leaders.

Photo Credit: @GeoffreyPegler

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