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Expat Experience

Why Building Relationships is Harder for You

Turning into a Swiss Person

I sat on a panel, and I just got as far as saying “I think…” when the other panelist gave her opinion on the matter. She probably didn’t notice that I was trying to say something, but for a moment, I was annoyed and thought, “how rude…”. 

Funnily, many years ago in Germany, this would probably have been okay for me. However, I notice now how I have turned into a “Swiss person”. I also tend not to want to work with Germans who have just arrived in Switzerland because I notice in what they do too many of my own mishaps and small failures back when I was a newbie in Switzerland.

Having lived here in Zurich for over ten years now, I prefer to run my life Swiss-style. Despite considering myself open and tolerant, I still mess up intercultural communication. I’m not always understood, and sometimes I’m just wrong. I recently had a long discussion about left and right, and I know I have a weakness there. In the end, I found out that I muddled up left and right (again!).

Sometimes “Global English” also makes it worse: A bunch of non-native speakers trying to communicate in their second language can lead to misunderstandings and unnecessary emotions.

Here are eight reasons that might make it harder for you to build professional relationships right now. And I don’t think that the pandemic is the main reason.

Eight Reasons

  1. You are shy, introverted, or not convinced that you are good enough to deserve success. Many partners suffer from the “impostor syndrome,” a psychological state of mind where people doubt their own accomplishments or consider themselves frauds just about to be exposed, especially if their career-driving partner just got another promotion in another country.
  2. You are embarrassed and ashamed of being “unemployed”. This is especially hard in a society where most of your self-worth is driven by your career and how busy you are.
  3. You come from a home culture where achievement is overly emphasized. In this cultures ascription is considered an unfair privilege while at the same time you are blindsided by the fact that you had an ascribed status in your home turf.  Fons Trompenaars and Charles Hampden-Turner associated the achievement dimension with protestant work ethic and belief. 
  4. You underestimate the cultural and value diversity in Switzerland. Even if Switzerland is the home of Zwingli and Calvin, there are catholic cantons where status, just like in the protestant cantons, is often equated with a family name, wealth, and how many generations you have already been a member of this society. So, there is still a strong ascription component that is not so obvious to outsiders. You don’t recognize that you have been in the out-group until you join the “Circle of Trust.”
  5. You are unaware of how you come across in person and assume that your style and behavior are “normal.” For example, you have not yet learned to read the cultural cues that hint that you might be too pushy or rude. A typical example in Switzerland is that newbies tend to overstretch a time commitment. In a society that runs on the clock and is a role model of the sequential time approach according to E.T. Hall’s time dimensions, not respecting this often creates a lot of stress for the other person.
  6. You are sending messages to mark your status in your home turf, such as the “Dr.” title in Germany. Or hint at your seniority by name-dropping the influential VIPs you used to hang out with. Still, this is either not understood or considered boasting, narcissistic, and merely annoying in Switzerland. (You could even exaggerate your qualifications and background, for all we know!)
  7. You interrupt your counterpart because you feel that they are slow. The Swiss tend to speak slower than many other Europeans, but they don’t like to be interrupted in their thought process as they are used to having a voice and being asked for their opinion on everything.
  8. You come from a high-context culture and you feel like you don’t know how to address a “stranger”  adequately.  You don’t know how to phrase your requests (your “ask”) to them, and they don’t understand you at all.

Relationship Segmentation Can Be a Barrier

Over the years of running my own business and projects, I often noticed that all the tools I tested to maintain a strategic approach to networking failed miserably with the extensive network that I’ve built over my professional life. 

So, I decided to let go of “strategy” and follow my gut and memory. I realized that the best idea is not to worry too much about “contact segmentation.” We Germans love the word “Begriffsabgrenzung”, so we also do this to our social life (“Bekannter, Kollege, Freund, Verwandter, Familie, Partner, Ehepartner…”). It’s a step-by-step approach, showing how much you trust the other person.

The same segmentation exists in Switzerland, but there are “false friends”( e.g., the word “Kollege” means “Work Colleague” in High German and “Friend” in Swiss German). In Switzerland and Germany, the informal ways of addressing a person with “Du” have different meanings.

Without intercultural training, a German manager will behave like a bull in a china shop in Switzerland – completely unintentionally. Hence, working with German managers in the “honeymoon phase” is a lot of work for the trainer or coach. I prefer to work with you when you are beyond the honeymoon phase, and you understand that you might not function in Switzerland like you are used to.

A Fluid Approach

My colleagues have become friends over the years, and some of my best friends from my university days or early career are colleagues or clients now. Some of my team members have become family, and some of my family members work in the same field or closely related ones. And some friends will never pay you while others will insist on giving back. The world is colorful, and so are people.

While saying this, I don’t want to imply that you have to like everybody you work with or network with. However, it’s another atmosphere for collaboration and innovation when you can fully trust the other person, and know in your head and heart that this person would never talk badly about you behind your back and would not spill your secrets with your competitors. 

Safe and collaborative environments require “relationship work.” 

Let me know what you are doing today to work on your business relationships.

 

Why buy us?

“Global Mobility” is currently undergoing a global transformation. New technologies, the constant evolution of companies, generational diversity and political situations have evolved the roles and lives of mobile professionals faster than existing policies can keep up, calling for a clear focus on the processes to be updated to cater better for the people driving Global Mobility.

Are you as a Global Mobility Professional feeling overwhelmed by the speed and scope of this ‘boom’? Perhaps you need to introduce yourself to the field and get a better, broader overview of Global Mobility. 

Maybe you are in HR or a line manager and want to ensure that you are becoming an employer of choice for younger generations demanding “Global Mobility” as a prerequisite for working with you. 

Or, you are just on the brink of deciding for or against an international assignment as an expat or expat family and want to understand the language we use better.

How we will help you

Working with “The Global Mobility Workbook” and Angie Weinberger will enable you to:

  • run your Global Mobility in a more strategic way by deeper understanding trends and drivers of Global Mobility
  • develop and sort out your legal framework, policies, guidelines, exception management,
  • give you models for improving how you explain what we do to the outside world,
  • support expats and their spouses and enhance their “Expat Experience” through training, coaching and deeper understanding of the psychological effects of cultural adjustment,
  • develop your professional profile and “Global Competency”.

In order to make the expat experience worthwhile for their careers and support for their families even better, it takes people who want more than ticking off a checklist.

It takes dedicated professionals and it needs personal communication with the entire expat family. We want to bring the human touch back into our process-driven work.

That is just the tip of what Global Mobility truly is, and the Global Mobility Workbook provides not only a baseline starting point to understanding the field but is a hands-on manual for people in HR, line managers, expats and their spouses.

What you can expect from us

  • Establishing the Global Mobility Brand. Strategic classification of international assignments for the “business case”, integration of the assignment in succession planning and more. 
  • Optimizing the Global Mobility Process. Optimizing the operational handling of Global Mobility in all corporate processes from recruiting, via talent development to localisation. We explain basic principles without the technical details that overwhelm beginners in the field.
  • Defining the Global Mobility Clients. Focusing on the experience of expatriates and their spouses, as well as on the process of monitoring those who are affected, including their safety and health. We also give an overview of emergency situations.
  • Building the Global Mobility Team. Presenting Global Competency as a key component in the career development of Global Mobility Professionals. It’s a mix of knowledge, attitude, skills, reflected experience and body learning. We also coach you along the way and develop an online learning plan together.

It’s a workbook so it engages you with:

    • Goal Setting: In the beginning of our journey together you set goals for yourself.
    • Homework: Most chapters come with a suggestion of a homework.
    • 12 Case Studies: In addition we provide downloadable cases studies from daily business scenarios. These present you with various international mobility challenges to engage with and analyze. 
    • 7 Templates: We share templates upon request.
    • 5 Tools: We send you examples how you can run your operations and projects
    • 3 Checklists: Global Recruitment, Relocation, Social security considerations
    • 12 months RockMeApp: Free access to the RockMeApp, our career planner and online coaching platform (value 250 CHF/USD).

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About the Author

Angie Weinberger is the Global Mobility Coach. She combines executive coaching, her long-standing Global Mobility expertise and workshop facilitation skills into programs for Global Mobility Professionals, Expats and Expat Spouses. She’s a recognized guest lecturer in “Global Mobility” and “Intercultural Management” and has worked in HR with an international focus for over 20 years.

Previously she wrote “The Global Career Workbook” (2016). She also wrote a German textbook on managing international assignment into and out of Germany published in 2009, 2010 and 2011. This publication triggered her interest in writing again.

Angie’s current projects include building the Global Mobility Function for a private bank, the development of a web application for online coaching called RockMeApp and RockMeRetreat

Angie also defines herself as an author, social media junkie and Bollywood lover. She has lived and worked in Germany, Switzerland, the UK, India and Australia.

When Angie is not working she enjoys hiking in the Swiss countryside, watches movies and overindulges on the cooking of her Pakistani partner.