Tag Archives: networking4nerds
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.


 

I lay awake on a Saturday night that I had just enjoyed with my partner and our neighbors and even though it was only Saturday I felt a creeping dissatisfaction about all I wanted to achieve the next working week. I am not sure how you feel but the fact that I attend most meetings online now creates more anxiety when a topic is really important to me. I feel that in a physical meeting I would be able to show my emotions better and usually I can be very convincing in such situations and achieve what I would like to achieve. Oftentimes, the point of such a meeting is to bring the other person or persons to an action or a decision.

But then, when I started to think about my week I felt there were so many small and urgent tasks to worry about that I would not be able to adequately prepare those critical meetings where I would want to be fully present and prepared. And in order not to let anxiety dominate my thinking I did what I usually do in such situations: I fell asleep. I woke up refreshed, made myself a cup of coffee and started to work. Methodically I moved from one minor task to the next to set up my mind for success the next week. Then what happened next was that I was able to take my mind off the small tasks before the end of the weekend and I could focus on the “big wins” again.

And yes, it is easy to worry but usually action helps me the best to get out of the state of worry. What often blocks my flow is not a lack of motivation, it’s rather a feeling of having too much to do and too little time for fun and play. Here, as an entrepreneur I developed the habit of allowing myself to not be reachable for anybody on certain days and just work in my pyjamas if I feel like it. If I work on weekends, I usually schedule time in the morning so I can still go out and spend time with my loved ones in the afternoon. I even leave my phone in its bed for several hours on the weekend to be more present for my partner and friends.

I know what you are thinking now: “But what if a major client is trying to reach you and you are not responding for hours? Or what if there is an emergency? Or what if you wish to google something quickly? Or what if you forget important tasks because you have so much on your plate?” (And then, when you think of all that, you stop your activity and you decide not to follow your idea of starting a business because it suddenly seems “unrealistic” and “building castles in the skies”, and “it won’t be good for my old-age pension if I don’t get a regular salary…”, and “I don’t have enough experience, money, support to start my own business…”)

Have you ever been in a situation where you felt a major change was about to happen in your career or life but you were too frightened to even start? You might not call it “FEAR”, you will probably think it is “REASON”, but believe me my friend…all those stories you are telling yourself why it won’t work are based out of fear. This fearful voice was probably borne a long time ago when you were a child and you were probably born into a culture where taking risks was not encouraged, where everyone believed in planning, predicting and pushing through.

I think we all have experienced this issue before and I would like to call it the “mountain of tasks” that leads to a block in activity. It’s similar to sports. Once you stop doing sports it is really hard to be motivated again.

1 – Deal with Monday Anxiety

I believe that there are two ways to deal with the Monday Anxiety I am describing above. One is that you engage in your purpose. You clearly define why this task helps you to fulfil your purpose in life and on earth. 

The other trick is to hack the “mountain of tasks” into smaller bits and pieces, make it doable and start with a small baby step. Therefore it is important to create a system that helps you keep an overview of your tasks. Most of you probably have developed a system over the years to track tasks and projects.

However, what I am noticing and have talked about in the last two blog posts is that we are starting a lot of work and it remains stuck in Work-in-Progress because of various factors. I would like to encourage you to complete your Work-in-Progress before the year end and see how that makes you feel.

If you cannot fully complete a project, define a new milestone that you would like to have achieved by the end of the year. List all those milestones on a wall where you can see them, either by using post-it notes or a hand-written task list.

2 – Develop Weekly Practices

I read that you will perform a habit if you are able to run the same task on 21 consecutive days. Considering the year-end is approaching fast and we literally do not have a lot of time left before the Christmas holidays I would suggest you use this time to develop one weekly practice to enhance your visibility on social media and network more effectively on LinkedIn.

I would like to suggest that you develop your social media muscle. Here are a few ideas of what you could do. Remember to set the goal low. You could say: I will work on social media for 25 minutes every day.

These are the tasks I will try to perform in one week.

1) Start the week with LinkedIn endorsements. Endorse five of your contacts each week for 1 specific skill.

2) Reach out to at least two contacts for a virtual coffee meeting.

3) Write one blog post of at least 800 words and offer it to bloggers in your industry as a guest blog.

4) Read one industry report and write a short summary and share it with three LinkedIn groups in your industry.

5) Conduct a free webinar on a topic you have mastered and publish it.

 

3 – Declutter your Paper Mess

This is a good time to declutter your Paper Mess and either file or throw out whatever you no longer need. Scan everything, file it and throw away the paper. It will make you feel great.

 

 

https://globalpeopletransitions.com/getting-projects-completed/