Author Archives: Angie Weinberger

seen in Germany
An example of German Humor – “Sucker – Alles bis XXL” .

I used to turn to Twitter for inspiration. I hardly ever use Google for a search. XING was my first social media affair, but Twitter is my true love. I am a short form texter and a friend of saying it in five bullets. I have returned to write posts in long form, 300 words minimum (and not only because of SEO but because it feels right). I had underestimated the challenge of being German and here is a how I got over it so I could become a better blogger.


Having been in the middle of my career around 2005, I think I missed the whole era of blogs coming up. I had too much to read already and I did not really understand the point of blogs. I thought of them as diaries not valuable sources of information. When I started to write in one of my XING groups it was to “inform” rather than to engage or entertain and once I was told that it was too much to read.
The way I wrote for a long time was the way I had learnt to write emails as an HR professional: Concise, factual and directive. I think, I still write concise and directive but I am moving away from the factual style. I have a hard time being funny. I wonder why that is. I realized it must have two reasons: 1) I am German and 2) I worry too much.
Apart from the obvious influence of my passport culture and mother tongue which is a limitation of English vocabulary and sometimes errors in grammar, I think the German education and university system got in my way when I wrote blog posts. We learned to base our statements on deep analysis. In blogging that is not necessary because you can write about your view of the world. I only understood this difference a few weeks ago. I don’t have to be “objective” in my writing. Readers want to hear what I have to say, not four consulting companies.
As a German (I am stereotyping now) I can’t be funny in a professional context. I take myself way too serious most of the time. I wish I could give a lighter note to my writing but I find it hard. Sylvia Day, a comedian and improv coach told me once “Don’t try to be funny.” So, I guess my only chance to make you laugh is by showing you the naked reality of our multicultural, globalized life. Maybe you read a story here and think “This is how I cheat myself as well.” For example when I write in my diary “Walk” and then I use the free time as a buffer to perfect my tweeting skills.
We assume that our published words are an expression of our analysis and experience with a subject matter. If I make a false assumption or draw a false conclusion, then that could reflect negatively on my work. I am often worried that I could be called out for superficiality. Not really hitting the nerve of the topic like in high school when you thought you failed the assignment as you did not really get what the teacher asked you to do only to hear him quoting you in front of the class as (OMG) your assignment stood out with originality and spirit.
In an attempt to make my blog more interesting I introduced movies as a theme. I love movies so why should I not refer to them in my work. You might love movies too. Make sure you enter “Darth Vader” in the search box or “James Bond” or “Iranian movies”. (Did you know that there is a Japanese movie festival in Zurich?)
I am also getting more bold at saying what I think needs to be said. That boldness might take a bit of uncomfortableness but it is very liberating. When you make helping others your profession you need to sit in their brain. When you write a cover letter I want you to hear me telling you that you break the task down in several steps and that you refrain from copying and pasting. When you network with a purpose I want you to hear that it is not about you but about helping the other person succeed or overcome a problem. And when you are asked about your salary expectations I want you to hear “Say the numbers.” This is what I would like to achieve with my work. That you reach your goals, that your work feels more rewarding and that you have a challenging growth experience on your international assignment.
That does not mean that we can’t have fun at the same time. So tell me all of your ideas how I could make you laugh.
On a “normal” work day I plan an appointment for relationship building and I prefer to do this in person. I have become so accustomed to have instant access to a map and train time table that usually I don’t check where I am going until I sit in the train. Switzerland has perfected the train system. They are usually very reliable and on time. People get irritated here when the train is 5 minutes late. (Ha!)
Yesterday was different though. I had planned to go for a walk but it turned into a mini-walk to the recycling bin. In the afternoon I headed to my appointment. All seemed on time. In the train I found a connection and not for the first time the connection did not take me where I wanted to go but somewhere in the realm of the area. I got off, wished I had time to stroll in the mountains and snow-covered woods but I was running late already. According to my phone I should reach in 22 minutes. Then my batteries died. I hardly remembered the address. I was annoyed, ready to turn around, sick of these endless times where I felt I was going the extra mile even for a volunteering job. I found a bakery on the way, asked for directions. They had no clue. Then I found the street, but not the house. Because I checked all but one.
Strange how we humans can err. Finally (now about 25 minutes late) a young man offered to check the website of the organization I was looking for and yes, I was next door to it. I killed my anger and laughed. There was a lesson to be learnt here. For a long time I did not seek help from so many people. I found it strange that I asked people for the way and I must have come across a lot more desperate than necessary. The meeting was inspiring and I went back with a sense of doing the right thing, with a sense of having met two ladies who are aligned with my values and with whom it will be inspirational to work.
Then on my way back I noticed that I was in an area of the city that I hardly knew. I liked it and it seemed like a place I would feel at home in. It made me think that Zurich is so diverse but if you stay in the expat bubble you could easily forget there is a less affluent part of town which also reminds me more of the area I lived in when I was in Frankfurt. I know…it is not always about outer change…but sometimes your inner change has caught up and your lifestyle might not seem to fit with your values anymore.
I want to downgrade, I want to live without a car, I want to adhere to the Swiss value of modesty. I realize that I have a choice. On my way back I got delayed again because of an accident. Poor soul, a person probably died. I only saw the last cleaning up work but the fact that the road had been blocked for several hours indicated tragedy. Again, I walked for 15 minutes. I noticed in the session afterwards that even though I was a bit flustered my brain was stimulated and energy level higher. I’ve had this weird feeling since the year started that I was not working hard enough but looking at new social entrepreneurs I learnt that I probably just entered a new phase in the start-up cycle.
It is now time to pivot, adapt and optimize. We aren’t going uphill any longer it is a leisurely stroll on the mountain range, the sun shines, snow covers the view and once in a while there will be storm. It is time to let go of the old dusted image, the status symbols of a management career and embrace a simple yet heart-filled and wonderful life. I am filled with gratitude.

When you are an intercultural coach you have certainly come across an issue with having clients from cultures where high power distance is the cultural norm. Assuming you are coming from a culture with lower power distance such as Switzerland and your client used to live in the Middle East most of her life, it could be that expectations and understanding of coaching are entirely opposite.


Since the Swiss tend to value modesty and often understate their credentials you could be perceived as either lacking depth, experience or academic stringency. Your client might also expect you as the expert to be rather directive and with the cultural assumptions behind how to get a job in the Middle East expect you to establish the necessary connections and introductions for them. The client might expect you to serve them their new career step, international assignment or local job on a silver plate.
As we know in the current market situation in Switzerland and with the immigration restrictions imposed by the popular initiative of 2014 it has become rather difficult for foreign professionals to find a highly qualified job in Switzerland – unless they speak German in German-speaking Switzerland, French in the French-speaking part or Italian in the Italian part. Southern Europeans from Spain and Italy even struggle. So let alone a professional from the Middle East.
The clients I usually work with all have at least studied to Master level, often have a PhD and most of them have a resume with five to 10 years of relevant work experiences working in Pharma, Consulting or Banking. When their partners are hired into Switzerland by large pharmaceutical companies they are often led to believe that it will be a wonderful life in Switzerland and yes, most of it is true. We frequently seem to make false promises though when it comes to spouse employment. We mention that unemployment in Switzerland is below 4% and has been this low for years. What we often fail to mention though is that expat spouses, local hires and other skilled migrants are not accounted for in these statistics. We fail to manage spouse expectations in the hiring process of the partner and then you as the intercultural coach have to deal with it.
I would argue that my colleagues and I have become better at dealing with this frustration in our coaching sessions but our work is often a fight against windmills. What I have taken away from the last three years as an intercultural career advisor is that I do not connect my client’s success with my own success. In coaching we believe that the client has all the resources to tackle her or his goals. Our success is connected to them being successful and reaching their targets but we cannot make us dependent on the job market.

1) Set the right goals for your success

If I made my success dependent on the client reaching his or her coaching goals I would most certainly be depressed by now. I set five goals for each programs:
a) To give the client the best service in helping him or her achieve goals,
b) To help the client develop realistic expectations of how to find a job in Switzerland,
c) To help the client feel ready for the job market in Switzerland,
d) To make the client feel more settled from a cultural perspective.
e) To activate the client if they get stuck in culture shock or frustration.
With these goals, I am often happy to see that the clients leave each session with a feeling of strength and being in control of their fate.

2) Be aware of how you build trust

In coaching we believe in a trustworthy and eye-to-eye relationship. It could happen that you build trust in a different way than your client from another culture and again it could be that you underestimate the power distance. When you are pushing the client along you might face resistance. When you let the client decide when the right time is to get into action they might procrastinate for too long. I think you need to balance it out. You also need to be very clear about when you are advising and when you are coaching. Still, I often leave my clients a choice if they want to implement my advice. Often for example clients do not feel like networking. It seems too hard and too much time for them to find a job. In my experience, it has been the most effective way to find a job or consulting work here. So, when my client does not want to start with a good networking strategy I let them decide. I will come back to the topic later but I will not push too hard. This could weaken your effect in a relationship with high power distance expectation.

3) Find good rituals to begin and end the coaching cycle

Getting a good coaching agreement in the beginning and having a debriefing session with room for feedback are critical to the success of the program in my experience. In the first session, you can position yourself as an expert while focussing on the client’s needs. You can also tell the story of other clients who went through the program and how they benefitted from it.Explain how in your culture a job is found and what is considered good and bad etiquette in the job search process. In the final session you need to debrief the program and also show where expectations might have cultural roots.

4) Maintain your structure but accommodate your client’s needs

For productivity reasons I try to keep a strict weekly or biweekly meeting structure. While this sometimes is even hard for myself, I see that it helps when you work with more than ten coaching clients per week and run other projects and volunteer work on the side. Often clients not only underestimate the challenge of finding a job here but also the challenge of finding reliable childcare, cleaning staff and learning German. There are good reasons why I accommodate their needs as well. I treat my clients like I expected to be treated from service providers when I moved here. I was often disappointed as they do not seem to understand the idea of going an extra mile for the client. To speak with Will Smith “I go 90, you go 10.” Most of the time when I have started a coaching relationship with being nice, accommodating and giving more for free, I earned trust. When I am strict and business-like clients start to negotiate.

5) Start the relationship with the most respectful form of addressing the client

The hardest clients for me are Germans. That is because I am German and because in Germany we would never start a business relationship on a first name basis. Germany has changed since I left seven years ago and Social Media has accepted “Du” as a normal way of addressing each other. I still find “Du” wrong when I speak to persons of authority such as professors who are 20 years older than me. So I stick to the “Sie” for the start. With Americans it is also interesting. I had a French client who had been to the US for around 10 years and kept calling me by my last name even though I had used his first name in English. I admit I underestimated the US-style having lived in the UK and Australia were I felt it was usually ok amongst adults to use first names. It get’s more confusing when my clients are from Pakistan or India where I would call them by their last name such as Ali or Rajat assuming that it is their first name. And then hardly any country is so obsessed with calling people by their names as Switzerland where you are only true friends once you call each other by a nickname.


6) Invite the partner and kids along to meet and greet

Sometimes I do invite the whole family to say hello. It helps me to get a better understanding of the framework and especially in male-dominated cultures it might be helpful to meet the husband when I coach the wife. At the same time, I tell the client politely that they need to ask their partner to stay out of the coaching relationship and back off while the partner is looking for work here. The main reason is that the partner usually got a job here without looking for it. They did not have to go through the hassle of cover letters, testimonials, interviews and networking. They were made an offer based on their previous performance. So their situation is not comparable. Also, they are often in an environment that they already know. Even if they worked for a competitor earlier their job adjustment is happening faster.
These are six ways to deal with high power distance in intercultural career coaching relationships. Let me know how your experience is.
PS: If you are struggling to understand the concept of “High Power Distance” you can review the work of Geert Hofstede or review the seven intercultural dimensions by Fons Trompenaars.
3I woke up with a headache and lack of good sleep because my partner was awake at 4 am. I start to get ready thinking “I will get through this day.” My partner reminds me to get toothpaste. Toothpaste is my totem to prove that I am in the real world and not dreaming any longer.
One of the most mundane tasks for me is to buy groceries. I have tried to hand over worldly tasks to others so I can focus on my clients but still there is a small household we maintain. Let’s assume that almost everything in our day is run on autopilot. You only notice that there is toothpaste in your life when it runs out. My coffee powder ran out the same day. I almost got angry at myself for letting it run out. Not having coffee disrupts my morning routine. Coffee is on my mind a lot.
I recalled a podcast I had heard by Tim Ferris where he reads letters of Seneca. The letter discusses the practice of poverty and Tim explains how he transfers the idea into his life.  Seneca wrote that it was necessary to “practice poverty” once in a while. Through the practice, you take out the fearful element. I liked the idea.
This week, I will experiment with everything in my little household and let stuff run out. Our fridge is empty. I will re-use paper in my office. I skied in the oldest outfit and with skiing glasses that almost fall apart. It makes me feel uncomfortable. I try to go out without cash or without a credit card.
[tweetthis] We are used to the luxury of having all our needs fulfilled right away. We are instant need fulfilling junkies.[/tweetthis]
When I look deeper though I see a pattern emerge. I accept that my current state of being is enough. I accept that my life is good. I am for once not over-burdening myself and watch my resources. I give myself a chance to create. I do not know how much time I have left to live my purpose. I live now.
I enjoy my personal life. I feel that I can give more love to the ones I care for but also to people who need support in our society. My heart sees the full glass. My mind suggests that the glass is empty. I tell the mind to shut up and see why it is good to have space. Only the empty space is creative. Only the empty space allows a transition. Only the empty space gives life.