Author Archives: Angie Weinberger

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

Guest post by Lucie Koch

Lucie Koch has joined Global People Transitions for an internship and will be sharing her internship experiences in a regular blog journal. 

While I have driven all the way up to the North of England during my last bachelor year with only six months of countryside driving experience (let me assure you, the stress was intense), I, and it seems to be the case for many young people of my age, have never felt as anxious and simultaneously excited at the prospect of starting my professional career.

My internship at Global People Transitions  started a little more than one month ago and, for now, I still have one foot in the academic system and the other one in the professional system. Knowing that I am about to step out of the apparently safe bubble of the academic world is becoming more real every day. However, I know that this apprehension is a globally experienced side-effect of change and I am going to be fine.

This said, the professional discovery experience is an exciting (and scary) experience, especially when starting in an international or foreign company, or when considering how young Europeans of my generation have been reminded for years about the high unemployment rates and economic crisis. Writing about my experience may help students about to take their first step in the professional world to feel less stressed about the change and professionals understand the young interns.

The first challenge I faced was intercultural. Indeed, while I am of Swiss nationality, my ideas about work, are mostly shaped by the French education system and experience through personal relations in France. Therefore, I was quite insecure about the professional culture proper to Switzerland.

Secondly, there is the fact that the Global People Transitions team is very diverse in its cultural backgrounds. However, due to my intercultural experience and interculturality centered studies, it was easy to adapt to this.

The real intercultural shock for me was more about academical vs professional culture. Indeed, the differences in behavior, expectations, jargon and directness, are always a challenge to adapt to, especially in a secondary language. I would argue that it might be harder or at least as hard to adapt to a new ‘working’ culture than to a new national culture, especially in a global environment. It is especially complicated in a digital work team, as one can’t rely on tone and physical expression hints.

Culture Shock Theory, which is used to explain and educate people about the social, physical and emotional challenges which people face during and international mobility, could be used in my case too. Indeed, there is the initial ‘honeymoon’ phase, when one is excited about more autonomy, earning money, meeting new people, moving to a new place. Then come the first stressful situations, negative experiences, the disappointment of big expectations, or the nostalgia of old habits, life and friends can lead to a low (more or less hard depending on everyone’s experience). Adapting to the new environment is essential and it is not limited to a change of country.

However, what I discovered in the first month of my internship, is that there is no need to be anxious and that some intercultural communication failures are bound to happen, may it be because of a nationality difference, a professional culture difference, or even a generational difference. The apprehension is normal but the growth that one gains in the professional experience is worth the harder parts.

I hope that you enjoyed this read!

Write you next month,

Lucie

Lucie Koch - Global People Transitions

Lucie Koch is intern at Global People Transitions since April 2017. She is about to graduate from an Intercultural Management Master study, which led her to study in Dijon, France, a city she was already familiar with and in unfamiliar Finland (for one semester). Previously, she studied one year at Durham university (UK) as part of a Bachelor Erasmus Mobility program. She was born in 1994 to Swiss expat couple in France. She grew up in the French countryside, around horses. She’s a self confessed introvert, fascinated by different languages, cultures, science (especially astronomy and biology) and philosophy. She also likes to spend time drawing, painting or in cinemas.

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.

One of my clients asked me why I did not spend more time explaining tests and preparing you for tests. One of the reasons is that tests are out of my radar a bit. Yesterday I forced myself through a psychometric test. As you know I sometimes go through interviews too. First of all, going through the process helps me sympathize with you. Secondly, I constantly look for new projects and sometimes a new projects means to apply for a full-time position.

What I did not know is that nowadays application processes are designed to test your patience and perseverance more than your work experience or actual knowledge of the subject matter at hand. It starts with all the duplication of data you have to enter in the applicant tracking system and ends with the surprise of being invited to an online test that is supposed to last two hours…and then takes up almost your whole Sunday.

I followed the advice of the recruiter and went through all trial tests on my couch in my PJ first thing Sunday morning. I felt like I was not in my right mind and that I could not do most of the math tasks without pen, paper and a calculator. Then I was disturbed by an alarm clock. I had to get up and lost time. I also felt it took me very long to understand the English texts which made me think that the tests are biased against non-native speakers. I did not know how elaborate this system was. My the time I finally started the real test I only had one wish: Get through this and see it as a self-experiment.

I understood that there was no deduction for giving the wrong answer and sometimes the last questions were the easier ones. I knew I wanted to finish all questions (even by guessing) and I tried to keep an open attitude even though my ego had been hurt already a fair bit.

I started with the personality test as I figured this would be easiest. Then I did the hardest one for me which was the inductive reasoning test, next the numerical analysis test and then a test where you had to read a paragraph and answer questions to it.

What I found strange is that there was no communication on when and whether I will see the result of my efforts and my lost Sunday. Companies should tell you such stuff. Also, they should tell you that these tests are made for people with Einstein’s IQ. I wrote down a few first tips for you when you are invited to psychometric tests:

1) Go through all the sample and practice test the same company offers.
2) Sign up to their mailing list for future challenges and new test questions.
3) Read all the instructions carefully and check if they have a version in your native language.
4) Make sure you block about three hours and have ZERO disturbance.
5) Take short breaks between the tests and drink water.
6) Make sure you actually have a simple calculator.*
7) If you expect more tests it might be worthwhile buying preparatory tests or books especially if you are a dinosaur like me who has not been to school for more than 20 years.

Here are also two links that might help you. I am not affiliated with those companies but they look genuine.

If you have further links and tips to share please let me know.

http://www.psychometricinstitute.com.au/Psychometric-Test-Guide/Psychometric-Test-Tips.html

http://career-advice.careerone.com.au/job-interview-tips/psychometric-testing/top-10-tips-to-prepare-for-a-psychometric-test/article.aspx

This week, I would like you to challenge yourself by running a self-experiment on a topic that feels like a challenge for you. Please share your experience with me. Thank you.

Angie

PS: I thought I had a calculator, but this one is one of my oldest belongings. I think I already used it at uni and the buttons did not really work anymore. I used the one on my phone but it made me lose time as it would sign out.

The dictionary definition of agility is “the ability to be quick and graceful.” Sounds like a must for dancers, but agility is also one of the crucial requirements for global leaders today.

Agile leaders deliver various benefits for their organizations – among them, worker satisfaction, loyalty, stronger motivation and (perhaps best of all) business longevity. But agility doesn’t come naturally for a lot of people, even for talented leaders. The natural tendency for many is to have a myopic perspective of situations, preventing them from taking into account the different variables that impact both process and results.

For example, you’re the boss of a growing enterprise and you’re focused on productivity in order to satisfy your demanding clients. So, you constantly tell your employees to uphold high standards in everything they do – perhaps, you even request them to work overtime to easily meet deadlines and solve issues that arise when conditions get stressful. They deliver for the company, but as a leader, do you recognize the value of their output?

Do you understand that in order to keep your operations afloat and save the good reputation of the company, they have given up part of their personal time, and made other sacrifices?

As a leader, what has been your expression of appreciation for their effort? A “thank you” or “good job”? Did you even bother at all?

If you have leadership agility, acting with great consideration is a must. You don’t want to ever appear like you’re taking your workers for granted. You don’t want your workers to feel like you don’t notice their hard work because this will snuff out their drive. Most of them will perhaps not say anything and stay on board (for some time). They will continue to work because that’s expected of them.

But eventually it will be apparent that you cannot count on them to dish out the goods. With low morale and inspiration, mediocre will rise to be the norm. Needless to say, if you have dreams of globalizing your business, that’s going to be difficult to achieve.

The enemy of progress is being average. And this is usually the result of a leader’s lack of agility. Therefore, if you’re resolved to keep your organization growing, supercharging your leadership ability is a must.

4 Ways to Boost Leadership Agility

1.     Continue learning

Being an eternal student can shape and prepare you better for the changes that can happen in your organization. Harness the benefits of executive coaching and other learning programs. You’ll have a bigger trove of solutions that can be used for issues that may arise along the way. If you have solutions ready, this will not only strengthen the confidence your followers have in you, it will also inspire them to do as you do.

2.     Come up with ways to improve the people working with you

Average is the enemy, right? Well, you need to make sure that your people have no reason to be average and the best thing to do that is by investing in opportunities that can either develop new skills or boost their strengths. But before you do that, carefully assess their weaknesses and strengths. This way, you’ll be able to match them with the most appropriate or suitable programs for their improvement.

Want to know the best advantage to doing this? It clearly shows that they are valuable to you and you want to continue working with them. This can boost their confidence and their drive in delivering more value for you and the organization.

3.     Establish a feedback and monitoring mechanism

Gaining information on the sentiments of workers will provide you a better understanding of how employees feel about your leadership and the efficacy of whatever leadership methods you utilize.

4.     Make brainstorming sessions a norm in your operations

Encouraging this activity will grow the idea bank of your organization and likewise, it presents the opportunity to identify members that serve as movers and shakers so you can have a more effective and efficient leadership and take the organization to greater heights.

Leadership agility is a vital component to success – it’s leadership done right. Therefore, focus on this and make sure that as a leader you demonstrate it at all times.

 

Salma El-Shurafa is an experienced Executive Coach and founder of The Pathway Project. She is a Professional Certified Coach by the International Coaching Federation (ICF), a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach from The Coaches Training Institute (CTI) and a graduate of CTI’s Co-Active Leadership program.