Category Archives: Global Teams

 

In the series “Seven Principles of Intercultural Effectiveness” I would like to show you how you can reach your targets across cultures by adhering to seven principles. We have covered Principle 1, Principle 2, Principle 3 and Principle 4 in earlier posts.

Principle 5 is called

“I trust even if I had been hurt before.”

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There are many instances in intercultural communication where we might have been hurt, where our way of trusting was hurt or where our values were challenged. We could have been misled by a carpet seller or a cab driver. We could have paid too much for a service just because we don’t really understand how the culture works or how the people behave in this culture. We could have thought that people were nice to us while they just made a business deal.

This misperception has led me to a number of learnings. One of the learnings is never to tell a driver in another country to take me shopping, because I will end up buying a carpet. I also learnt to negotiate the fare price with rikshaw drivers before I get on the rikshaw.

Still, I work with the assumption that people are good and that they are just trying to provide for themselves and their families. They are not out there to kill me or take away all my possessions. I am careful when I travel but I still trust people because it has led me to interesting encounters and helped me make great connections. I am not saying you should trust blindly but at least assume positive intentions of others.

In the series “Seven Principles of Intercultural Effectiveness” I would like to show you how you can reach your targets across cultures by adhering to seven principles. We have covered Principle 1, Principle 2 and Principle 3 in earlier posts.

Principle 4 is called

“I give people a third and fourth chance.”

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One key mistake a lot of my clients make before they come to our programs is that they send applications through websites in Switzerland without having any personal connections in the company. It’s very hard to find a job in Switzerland like that. Most candidates are very unforgiving or even worse start to doubt themselves. They do not yet understand how the system works and that Swiss or German speakers tend to be hard to approach at first. That is why we often refer to their cultures as being similar to coconuts.

The truth is that multinationals hire through their websites and their own recruiters. They have an inclusive policy and every candidate gets a fair chance but these companies are global corporations and the majority of companies in Switzerland are small and medium-sized. In fact the majority of jobs are not advertised openly in Switzerland. You need to learn the ropes. You need to give people more than one chance to gain your trust and you need to be forgiving if they come across as factual or even aggressive.

12695279_1056623704380238_1847484206_oIn the series “Seven Principles of Intercultural Effectiveness” I would like to show you how you can reach your targets across cultures by adhering to seven principles. We have covered principle 1 and principle 2 in earlier posts.

Principle 3 is called

“I am more compassionate.”

 

As an intercultural coach I find it very important that you work with an open heart. This means that you show more compassion than the average person. If you have a friend or a relative in the family who is suffering from a health issue or less able to make a living than you are how about you spend a bit of time with that person and find out how you can help him or her. Another good way to show your compassion is by helping those who need support in our society: Children, elderly citizens, the homeless and refugees or migrants. Serving others with compassion is a spiritual exercise that will help you become more effective across cultures as well.

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In the series “Seven Principles of Intercultural Effectiveness” I would like to show you how you can reach your targets across cultures by adhering to seven principles. We have covered the first principle in an earlier post.
The second principle is called

 “I watch my conclusion form other angles.”

It is easy to make a judgement without knowing the background and cultural assumptions behind certain behavior. If you want to become inter-culturally effective you need to learn to hold your judgement and watch your conclusion from different angles. It also helps to assume that the opposite of what you interpret could be true as well. So when you are experiencing a culture clash take note of what you believe is going on and then write down what else it could be.
When we look at discussions of the same event and read about this in newspapers with an opposing political view you see my point. You could read one journalist’s opinion and think “Yes, she has a point.”. The you read a contrary view on the events and you think “He is right as well.”. In intercultural competence we call this ability that you can deal with ambiguity. That is not always easy. Believe me. It’s a good exercise though.
Take a look at an intercultural clash experience you had. Write down conclusion A. Then write down the complete opposite. What is your experience from this exercise?

In the TGV Lyria the French train running between Paris and Zurich all seats are normally taken. Like on a plane you need to sit in your reserved seat. In Switzerland there are no reservations. When a train gets too full and extra train is implemented during high times. Switzerland deals with this issue by adding more trains.

On Saturday, I entered the train in Dijon (France – the city of mustard) and placed my suitcase at the beginning of the compartment but could not find me seat in the lower deck. First I thought that there was an error on my ticket. Then I noticed the upper deck. I walked back, went up the stairs and thought “I must remember where I placed my suitcase.”

When I found my assigned seat 106 it was taken by a young girl. I experienced how my “Germanic” sense and preference for structure and order immediately was challenged. My stomach gave me messages “Out of order, not right, what is happening here?”

I tried my best French to state that I had a reservation. The girl showed me her ticket and explained in French that there was a mix up as the young couple in the seat in front of her had taken their seats. No one showed signs of getting up for a middle-aged woman. (My brain said “These younglings…no respect for age.”)

I saw no point in getting angry at the girl and her cute little sister who explained again the same.

I was thinking about approaching the couple directly but for a few minutes I did not know what to say and how to stay polite in French. Then a veiled lady told me to wait for the conductor. I felt out of place as people were trying to pass by. I thought about sitting out the problem and felt a frog creeping in my throat as I tried to say in French that I was standing here like an idiot because of a mix up of seats. I was also getting hot in my winter jacket and worried about fainting.

I felt tired and wanted to sit and work. I don’t like it when my plans get interrupted. I waited in silence and looked at my ticket to decide how long I could stand here. The girl (who was in the wrong seat) became nervous. She urged her boyfriend to handle this embarrassing situation. Then another young man got up and showed him something on his phone. The boy turned to me and said in English “You can take my seat. It’s number 64.“

I went back to the lower deck where I had left my suitcase, could not find 64, then went back up, passed by the boy and smiled. “It’s probably over there”. Then I asked the passenger in seat 64 if he had a reservation. He said yes. I apologized, went back to the boy and said “Did you say 64 or 46?”. He smiled “I said 54.”

I smiled, finally found seat 54 and ended up near where I had originally placed my suitcase.

Why am I telling you this?

I thought this is one of the situations that you experience in a new country all the time during your cultural adjustment.

I was proud of myself that I did not get too angry and tried to use humor in an awkward social situation in a language I did not feel 100% comfortable in. It also showed me again that your inner state is important when handling intercultural issues. You can solve problems better when you stay calm and composed even if a situation upsets you.

This situation gave me a good chance to apply my seven principles for intercultural effectiveness and I learnt once again

I could have reacted differently but by being quiet and patient the younglings came up with a solutions that was a win-win for all of us.

Other lessons learnt that help in intercultural settings.

1) Communicate your Needs

I should have said that I need to sit and work. Everything else did not matter to me. I should have said that I did not sleep well and that my back hurts when I stand to long but I did not. Maybe I could have arranged the new seat faster with better communication and checking in about the seat number. How often does it happen in intercultural communication that we do not really understand each other?

2) Forget Powerplay, Authority and Assumptions about Social Hierarchy

It’s not always necessary to play a power game when you can solve problems together. In order to do that you need to keep an open mind and accept a bit of chaos (which is hard with a Germanic mindset). I admit I felt a bit entitled and was going to pull an arrogant move, about how I had paid for my seat etc…but something stopped me from doing that. Maybe I am not that kind of person anymore.

3) Religion means nothing – Love is everything

The boyfriend’s argument “I wanted to be close to my girlfriend…” convinced me and I really did not question that I could take his seat instead. I loved that everyone seemed to sympathize with me and engaged in my “problem”. I expected the least support from the veiled lady but she immediately provided a solution. My heart went out to her as I thought she does not need to help a stranger.

 

4) Small issues can create big emotions

Although this was such a small dilemma it almost made me cry. I felt awkward and out of place, someone who does not fit in and this probably triggered old childhood memories of being new in class with a funny accent when I was showing up in second grade after our big family move. Watch your feelings and emotions. They might be triggered by old memories.