In my intercultural coaching work, I support mainly, though not exclusively, two client profiles. The first are companies in which teams from different countries need to work together. This is often done on a project basis, bringing people to collaborate with clients and colleagues they do not know that well; sometimes it is the result of a takeover or merger, and other times it is the consequence of an internal reshuffle that reassigns roles and redraws team boundaries. I recently worked with a French HQ team working on a project with their firm’s British subsidiary, to help them understand and adapt their behaviours for better results with their anglo-saxon colleagues. The other typical type of clients are managers in charge of multicultural teams. I have run numerous workshops for big NGOs, helping recently promoted managers navigate both their new responsibilities and their culturally diverse teams.
Whatever the profile type, I am almost always asked the same questions:
Can we overcome the challenges of working across cultures? How?
My answer is always the same too:
Yes! But why stop at overcoming challenges and obstacles, when – with a little thought and effort – you can turn those challenges into opportunities and advantages?
- Know thyself
The first step towards greater cultural awareness and the ability to leverage difference to your advantage is to get to know your own culture.
Two fish are cruising around their tank one day when they pass an older fish coming from the other direction. “How’s the water?” asks the solo swimmer. “What water?” reply the young sprats. That’s culture. It’s the water we’re swimming around in that we do not even realise is there.
One way of discovering the values and shared references that underpin the society that shaped you is to consider your country’s proverbs and sayings; these often convey deeply held beliefs. It’s also important to think about your personal culture, which is influenced by many other things, ranging from your profession (you’re a lawyer? maybe you value justice…) to your hobbies (do you value creativity, fitness, fair play?) and your religion (charity? fidelity? humility?).
- Educate others
A simple way of helping culturally diverse teams work together is to organise team meetings in which people of different cultures take the realisations they’ve made about their own culture (see step 1!) and share them with their workmates. Maybe Guillaume explains that he and his countrymen tend to keep work and private life very separate, but that it is important in France for colleagues to lunch together. Next up, Victoria might explain that British people are quite open and direct in the way they express themselves as a rule, but that when it comes to offering any kind of negative feedback, they will do so less explicitly as diplomacy is paramount. It might help to read books like Kiss, Bow, or Shake Hands or Erin Meyer’s The Culture Map, for extra insights. So many misunderstandings and so much frustration can be avoided simply by knowing your own culture and then helping others to understand it too. It opens the way to easier communication by acknowledging the elephant in the room and giving everyone permission to voice their differences.
- Adopt an anthropological attitude
When interacting with people from other cultures, check your judgement at the door. Remind yourself that with most attitudes and behaviours, there’s no right or wrong, good or bad, there’s just my way and your way, our way and their way. The more you can approach difference with a curious, intrigued and detached attitude – like an anthropologist – the more you can learn and, ultimately, adapt.
- Create a team charter
To take cultural understanding to the next level, I encourage culturally diverse teams and their managers to create their own team charter. This consists of defining your team’s values and preferred behaviours and attitudes. It’s a chance for everyone to consider all the different cultures around the table and then agree on a way of being and working together that suits this particular group. Subjects to reflect upon might include how the team feels about punctuality, whether it values socialising outside of work, how it deals with conflict, what it expects from managers and staff members, how it chooses to make decisions. This is an opportunity to bring people together and put in place working methods that can raise the team’s level of collaboration, improve performance and productivity, and boost individuals’ sense of belonging, mutual respect and wellbeing.
- Play to your strengths
Another way of leveraging the massive potential that a multicultural team offers is to take into account individual and cultural strengths when assigning projects or tasks. Without, of course, buying into stereotypes, pigeonholing people or denying them the chance to learn, it can be beneficial to consider team members’ natural cultural strengths when handing out jobs. For example, maybe you have a presentation to make to an American client with an empiric, application-based reasoning style. She will need facts, figures and examples to be persuaded that your product is right for her company. You might want to choose your Canadian team member, who shares this mindset, to lead the sub-group working on that particular PowerPoint, rather than the French or Italian colleagues, who both have a theoretical, principles-based method of reasoning in which a theoretical argument is built based on a concept to show the logical thought behind a proposal. Of course, you have to take variation within a culture into account (not all Brits are funny, not all Germans are punctual), but by considering cultural fit you can help your team play to their natural strengths and perhaps even offer opportunities for them to help each other grow. Maybe you ask an implicit communicator to partner an explicit communicator on a delicate negotiation to help the latter develop a feeling for extreme diplomacy. Perhaps your deadline-dependent project is headed up by someone from a culture that values time planning and punctuality, assisted by someone from a time-flexible culture so they can learn from and balance each other.
Ultimately, the two keys to keys to working successfully across cultures are awareness and communication: know your own culture, understand other people’s cultures, then talk, share, and grow.
Are you finding it hard working with other cultures or within a multicultural team? Are you managing people from different cultural backgrounds to your own? Does your company have offices in multiple countries and require staff to work across borders? Working with an experienced, dynamic and practical intercultural coach can help you and your company not just overcome the challenges of our globalised and multicultural society but also unleash the potential of cultural diversity to boost performance and gain competitive advantage. Contact me to find out how we can work together.
I was recently regaling a close (and willing!) friend with a few stories of funny things my children have said and done of late. For example, my seven-year-old daughter who loves to read Dog Man has taken to exclaiming “Oh boy, this is gonna be great”, which is hilarious given her cut-glass English accent. I was also recounting how, when my four-year-old son colours, he does so as if his life depends on it: the tongue is sticking out, he can’t keep from standing up on his chair, the concentration is so intense it’s almost audible. “Ah,” sighed my friend, “”We should all be a little more like Sam, I think – so enthusiastic and wholehearted.”
Her words got me thinking. I could definitely do with being a little bit more like my children – in many ways. One day, I will surely need them to teach me how to type a document using only my brainwaves, or to configure whatever we’re using instead of smartphones 20 years from now. The mind reels. But for now, there is already a lot I can learn from them. It may be the adult’s job to teach our children to read, swim and cross the road safely, but we can definitely benefit from taking a leaf out of their wise little books now and then – both in our personal lives and the professional sphere.
Here are my top seven life lessons we can take from children – our own and other people’s!
- Live 100%
Despite the fact that I devised my slogan “life with purpose and on purpose” years before having children, it is only since having them that I have witnessed someone truly putting this into practice. When my son is building with Kapla, his focus is absolute. It’s a full-body experience that absorbs all his attention. When my daughter is sewing, you can call her for dinner 10 times before she even looks up. Whatever children do, they do it wholeheartedly. Applying this lesson to my life – seeking out what’s known as “flow” – never fails to improve the quality of my experience. Coaching is already an activity that requires full presence, but when I consciously try to “be more like Sam and Alice”, I seem to take it to another level and am truly absorbed by my client. When I’m writing, turning off the phone and closing email makes it so much more enjoyable. Even if I’m just cooking supper, doing so with music on and a clear intention to nourish and care for my family add both value and fun to the task. In essence, this tip comes down to: be here now.
- Ask for what you need and want
If supper is served late, kids have no qualms about manifesting their displeasure. If they need to pee during a train ride, the whole carriage will likely know about it. Children ask for (ok, demand) what they need and are vocal about what they want. I think we’d all benefit from being a little more like this. So often, our resentment, anger and sadness are linked to unspoken needs and desires. Of course, the remedy is not to stamp your foot and throw a hissy fit, but if we all expressed ourselves more, and more clearly, we’d definitely boost our chances of reaching our goals and gaining satisfaction. In the workplace, this might mean making sure the boss knows you aim to achieve director status by the age of 40, or that your long-term goal is to move to the US office. At home, maybe you ask for help with chores, or create a family rota rather than sighing loudly as you fold laundry alone. With friends, it might simply mean daring to say “Actually, tonight I really fancy Thai food” rather than the usual “I really don’t mind where we eat – what’s your preference?”
- Own your feelings and show them
When children are sad, they cry. When they are joyful, they laugh. When they are young, at least, there are no feelings that are off-limits or shameful, and demonstrating their inner state comes naturally. As adults, to add insult to the injury of unpleasant emotions like sadness, anger or disappointment, we also experience meta-emotions. We have feelings about the feelings we are having, for example feeling ashamed of being lonely, or irritated that we feel envious, and we force ourselves to hide what we’re going through. We could all benefit from allowing ourselves to feel what we feel, without judgement and – when appropriate – to express it too. One way to facilitate this in the workplace might be for managers to be more vocal about their own emotions – perhaps frustration at a budget cut, or overwhelm at an extra project the team has been assigned. When they do this, they give their team permission to feel and share some of what they are experiencing too.
- Marvel and wonder
On the walk to school, my children are able to find way more than seven wonders of the natural world that will cause them to stop and exclaim, “Mummy, LOOK!” These marvellous findings might range from the grid patterns made by airplanes as they crisscross the sky to particularly large snails and solitary magpies (“Hello Mr Magpie and how’s your lady wife today?” they chorus). Despite my best adult instincts, I have now learnt to embrace these moments and seize the opportunity to look hard at what’s going on around me. To notice the carpet of conkers, kick up the russet leaves, smell the jasmine bush overflowing from one front garden on our route, laugh at the mini dog wearing a Father Christmas coat. The walk takes a little longer, surely, but it is a richer sensory experience, and the day starts on a note of enchantment and delight.
- Enjoy the journey
Further mining the rich seam of learning that is the school run (or the slow school walk in our case)… My children’s appreciation of our conversation and the things we notice on the way to school serves as a constant reminder to me that the journey is part of the adventure. This is fairly easy to keep in mind when your destination is a beach in Hawaii, but more challenging during a business trip. However, when on my way to coaching clients in Toulouse, Geneva or Lyon, I always try to make the most of the travel time, which could otherwise seem like dead time. Flights are a chance to read. Train trips with my computer give me time to write. Even a simple trip on the Paris metro can provide opportunities to check out posters for new films and exhibitions, notice changes in fashions, and (more often that you might imagine) observe random acts of courtesy and kindness performed for strangers.
- Put yourself centre stage
Have you ever noticed how often children say “I” and “me”? They are constantly talking about themselves – what they think, like, want, need… When they are recounting something that happened at school, they are very definitely the main character. If they are deciding between the pink sparkly t-shirt and the multi-coloured unicorn, the only taste they take into account is their own. Children live their lives centre stage, eschewing the kind of comparison with others that plagues us as adults and causes us to “should” on ourselves. All too often, we pay more attention to what others are wearing, doing, buying, achieving, than what we like, want and need. We can learn much from children’s ability to be the focus of their own attention.
- Let it go
As adults, we hold on to so much emotion and carry around so much baggage, thinking today about what happened yesterday, last month, last year, or a decade ago. Children, on the other hand, make like Elsa and just let it go. When the school day is over, it is over. When a Mr Hyde-level tantrum has been calmed, they switch back to their Dr Jekyll face in seconds. This ability to let things go is invaluable to our professional lives. Too often, we ruminate on a conversation with the boss, or mull over an upcoming presentation when we should be focusing on a hobby, a friend or our family. The more we can learn to leave the day behind when we walk out of the office (or clear the computer from the dining table/home office), the more we can contain our worktime and be present for our personal time.
Do you wince whenever you hear someone described as “living his best life” or “winning at life”, conscious that you don’t feel that is the case for you? Do you feel, deep down, that while life is fine, it could be so much more fulfilling and joyful? Working with a supportive, dynamic and insightful coach can help you make the big and small changes you need to ensure you enjoy a life and career built with purpose and on purpose. Contact me to find out how we can work together.
This summer, one of my dearest friends (let’s call her Jennifer) fulfilled her dream of moving from Paris to Annecy, where she can ski to her heart’s content for almost half the year. Ex-pats get used to having friends come and go – it is part of the job description. I have many overseas friends with whom I am just as close now as when they were in Paris. With others, contact is patchier but pleasing, and with some, we have mutually accepted that our friendship was specific to a certain time. Jennifer is in another category altogether, though. She’s one of those friends who makes you feel like you’re truly travelling through life together. She calls so I can sympathise the first time her optometrist suggests bifocals. I ring her to share something hilarious my four-year-old said at supper. She’s spent Christmases with my family. My kids call her Auntie. Yes, she’s that friend. So, while I still have other great friends here and I know we’ll still speak frequently, her departure is a real loss.
Shortly after Jennifer left, I went on holiday with my family, so it’s actually only now that I’m really feeling her absence. We’ll be moving into the autumn soon and, as I anticipate the leaves falling from the trees, I can’t help but feel the last decade has been somewhat autumnal in tone in general. It has been a time when several ex-pat friends have returned to their native lands, native pals have married and moved to other bits of France, and still others have had babies and retreated into a little family bubble for the cocooning years. That this exodus coincided with me leaving a salaried job to set up my own business, moving to the suburbs, and having two children myself only exacerbated my “end of an era” feeling. Hence why I have been heard to compare my situation with that of a tree in autumn, losing its trusty, long-loved blanket of foliage to reveal slightly sad and wintry boughs.
It sounds slightly morose, I know, but in truth I rather love the autumn, and I also love the metaphor it offers for perpetual change and the hope of renewal. Because the reason trees lose their leaves is so that they can concentrate their stores of energy to survive the cold months and burst forth in springtime, greener and stronger than ever. Nature cannot create newness before first stripping back what was. And so it is with our human experience. When we go through major change, between the life we used to lead and the building of a new life, there must be a void. Just as between autumn and spring, there must be winter. When one chapter of life ends, there must be a time of emptiness before we can write a new chapter, allowing new connections, hobbies, traditions, friends, projects and job opportunities to emerge.
And they will emerge. Nature abhors a vacuum, as they say. I – indeed, we all – know that deep down, but it’s slightly cold comfort when it’s the bleak midwinter and there’s not a snowdrop in sight. So what does help? Well, transition rituals are definitely a good idea. Taking the time to say goodbye is healthy. Despite the fact that Jennifer and I will still talk several times a week, I gave her a leaving gift and we had a “last” fun Parisian night out to mark the change. I think it also helps to realise that external and internal change don’t necessarily happen at the same time. In his 1980 book Transitions, William Bridges explains how the mental and emotional transitions we feel when we experience major external change – whether good or bad – can happen weeks, months or years after the fact. The knowledge that feelings of loss and bewilderment (for a job we left, a house we sold, a friend who moved away, a lifestyle that ended) can hit much later, when we think we’ve moved on, will not lessen the sadness but will make us better prepared to welcome our feelings and take care of ourselves.
In the workplace, acknowledging that even happy transitions can be challenging is crucial. That might mean providing better support for staff who are promoted or who change jobs. It is important to mark the transition (celebrate a promotion, properly announce a shift in job remit) and ensure there is a clear moment when they change role. So often, internal position changes come with an inevitable period during which the employee manages both old and new role at the same time. The more companies can create a clear demarcation, the easier it is for people to say goodbye, close a chapter, and embrace a new one.
What to do in winter?
I also think that simply accepting the void before the rebirth – making peace with that limbo land between the end of an era and the beginning of a new one – can save us pain an energy. This is counter-intuitive for me, as I’m someone who wants to roll up her sleeves and “fix” things, but it’s a waste of energy. Some feelings just have to be felt and waited out – like when your husband convinces you to try Space Mountain despite the fact that you hate rollercoasters and you realise after a few seconds that a) it’s just as horrific as you had imagined, and b) you cannot get off and this must be what people mean when they say, “the only way out is through”. Sometimes, you just have to ride the rollercoaster, all the while staying curious about your experience, emotions and processes.
If you are a manager, supporting your team during a rocky period at work, for example during a restructure, can feel disempowering. You may not have any power over seismic changes taking place in the company, but you can help your staff by acknowledging that times are tough and encouraging open discussion of both what’s going on and how they are feeling during team meetings. You might begin by admitting that you are not enjoying the rollercoaster much yourself. You may not be able to fix the problem but you can make sure your team feels seen and heard to help them feel less alone during a professional winter of discontent, perhaps.
Celebrating the spring
When you’re waiting for the spring – whether you’re prospecting for a new business and hoping for your first client, keeping an eye out for social opportunities after moving to a new town, or biding your time until a new normal emerges after the arrival of a baby – I have found the key is to find ease. Metaphors about not being a salmon swimming against the current, and Buddhism-inspired notions of non-attachment to specific outcomes immediately spring to mind.
When one chapter of your life ends, it is easy to start viewing it through rose-tinted glasses but, while memories are precious, it’s important not to forget that the new chapter about to be written will bring its own joy. I’m still talking to Jennifer (and many of my other far-flung friends) regularly, and I’m already planning a trip to see her the weekend of Annecy’s annual apple and honey festival (It’s straight out of Gilmore Girls, right? Talk about a silver lining to her move!). But I’m also staying open to the new connections I have begun making – through suburban life, the children’s school, my growing business. Because the old adage is right – change really is the only constant. And the more you can behave like that tree – allowing its leaves to fall, safe in the knowledge that it has enough inner resources to wait out the winter and sure that the spring will bring new life – the more gracefully, easefully, and happily you will face the ever-changing seasons of your life.
Are you struggling with a tough transition? Do you want to make life changes but fear the unknown? You needn’t go through it alone. Working with an understanding, supportive and experienced coach can help you embrace change as you take one step at a time towards a life and career built with purpose and on purpose. Contact me to find out how we can work together.
5 books in the personal development genre to feed your mind and soul this summer
Four Thousand Weeks
Oliver Burkeman is my find of the year. I gobbled up his latest offering, Four Thousand Weeks – Time Management for Mortals, then proceeded to read through his entire oeuvre. The title refers to the fact that the average human lives for 4,000 weeks and that no matter what we do to lengthen it, pack more in, and be more efficient, in the end we get the time we get.
This book is the antidote to time management, productivity and organisation advice, seeking rather to realign our relationship with time. Interestingly, Burkeman spent years writing “This Column will Change Your Life” for The Guardian, testing all the concepts he is now rather debunking. He has a chatty and often humorous style that makes it an easy read while imparting great wisdom that – I found – changed my relationship to my to-do list instantly.
Social worker and shame researcher Brené Brown is the personal development expert to read or watch at the moment. She is everywhere, with TED Talks, a one-off show on Netflix, and a recent new book release. While I haven’t read her latest yet, this year I did read her classic Daring Greatly, which explores how the courage to be vulnerable can transform our lives. The title is inspired by a speech made by Theodore Roosevelt in which he said:
“It is not the critic who counts ; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles… The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena… who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.”
While the quotation alone is worth reading in full, the book is full of the warmth and wisdom for which Brené is known and loved.
The Paradox of Choice – Why More Is Less
Barry Schwartz’s The Paradox of Choice was first published in 2004, but I only heard of it this year. It’s a brilliant exploration of the ways in which having too many options, possibilities and choices can create anxiety, stress, disappointment and – in some cases – depression.
While it takes the example of shopping as its jumping off point, Schwartz extends his argument to examine the entire gamut of decisions we make every day – from internet provider to romantic partner and career. But luckily, he doesn’t stop there, the book ends with a whole chapter on how to counter the negative effects of having too much choice in life with some practical advice that can be applied straight away. Full of examples that bring his arguments to life plus a healthy dose of humour, this is a thought-provoking page-turner that will definitely get you thinking next time you’re in the supermarket.
Following up on The Little Book of Hygge (also a fun read), Meik Wiking – founder of Copenhagen’s Happiness Research Institute – published Happy Moments: How to Create Experiences You’ll Remember for a Lifetime in 2019. The book delves into research about both what makes us happy and how memory works to offer insights into how to fill our lives with happy moments and also how to commit those moments to our long-term memories. Wiking has an informal, chatty style that makes the book a pleasure to read and belies the thoroughly research-based information he is sharing. I enjoyed the theoretical parts of the book, but got even more out of the very practical tips Wiking offers for making specific moments more memorable and have been able to implement some of his suggestions – to great effect!
My last recommendation is a real heavy-hitter. The Choice is Hungarian Jewish psychologist Dr Edith Eger’s account of her experience of the Holocaust, from the time leading up to her deportation to Auschwitz right through to her return to Germany years later to give a talk at Berchtesgaden, Hitler’s former retreat in Bavaria. The book is part autobiography, part self-analysis, part advice and insight, and it is incredibly powerful. While it obviously contains distressing passages, Eger’s vibrant and unbreakable spirit elevates the writing beyond history or memoir. Its ultimate message is one of hope and healing, with kindness and wisdom in every sentence. Drawing on her work as a psychologist, Eger uses her experience and expertise to offer the reader insights that are applicable to us all about how to endure, develop resilience and choose hope, even at the darkest of times.
Two fish are cruising around their tank one day when they pass an older fish coming from the other direction. “How’s the water?” asks the solo swimmer. “What water?” reply the young sprats. That’s culture. It’s the water we’re swimming around in that we do not even realise is there.
Well, not until we leave the country we grew up in to move to, say, Paris, France, and notice – with a queasy mixture of horror and excitement – that we’re not in Kansas (or Kensington, Ko Samui or Kingston) anymore and people do things differently here.
Intercultural adaptation: step by step
The cultural sociologist Milton Bennet developed a model of intercultural sensitivity that identified the six standard ways in which people experience, interpret, and interact across cultural differences. On one end of the scale, we have denial: the state of not even realising that other cultures might do things differently. Not many of us are here given today’s globalised economy, but little details can creep up on you. I nearly fell off my chair when I was told that people drink port as an aperitif in France, not as a postprandial that gets passed to the left.
Then comes defence.
We all know this one: it rises to the surface any time I go to the post office in France and usually takes the form of “What do these people think they’re doing? Why can’t they just do things the way we do back home? It’s so much more organised!”
Thirdly, minimisation – that state of mind in which we are convinced that our cultural differences are insignificant and mainly focused on our countries’ differing relationships with cheese. When we get past these, we reach the last three stages of acceptance, adaptation and integration. A sort of Holy Grail Trinity, if you’ll excuse a shamelessly mixed metaphor.
The shock of culture
Culture shock is a heady mix of the first three states of being. It’s that crashing realisation that not only do differences exist, but they are far from minimal and that our own culture has not necessarily got it right, indeed that – whisper it – perhaps there is no right. It comes to us all and can leave even the hardiest of ex-pats breathlessly running for the nearest little slice of home they can find (for me, it’s always the WHSmith bookshop on rue de Rivoli).
Culture shock is about the loss of the familiar, it’s about feeling like you’re swimming in ambiguity and the unknown.
At its deepest level, it’s a feeling of loss of identity and having one’s values questioned simply by living among people who do not share them. Culture shock can be brutal and – in my experience of nearly 19 years in Paris – can strike at any time since new cultural differences come to the fore as we advance through the various stages of life.
What are you saying?
However inevitable culture shock may be though, it can be anticipated, alleviated and managed. To go back to our fish joke, the first step towards managing culture shock is taking a look at the water in which you are swimming – figuring out the values that underpin the society that shaped you. One portal into decoding your country’s values is its treasury of proverbs and sayings. These often carry deeply held beliefs and messages. Numerous American business coaching clients have told me that the question they apply when assessing potential suppliers is “What have you done for me lately?” This speaks to a value of performance and productivity, and not resting on your laurels. The Mexican saying “Mi casa su casa” reveals values around hospitality, openness and inclusion. What sayings does your culture use?
Nuance is crucial, of course. Every individual is different, and here we are talking in broad brushstrokes. So why not think a little about your own personal values? They will influence how you experience other cultures too. So, think of a time in your life when you felt fantastic, like you were functioning at 100% and exactly where you needed to be. What were you doing, who was involved, what impact was made? Alternatively, think of a time when you were angrier than you ever thought possible. Often, anger is a result of a strongly held value being violated in some way. For each memory, consider what’s at stake and what makes it so vivid.
More than a slogan
Now you can turn your attention to the culture of your host country. What does this nation hold dear? What truths seem self-evident to its citizens? What are its major proverbs? Does it have a slogan? The easiest way to start in France is with the classic liberté, égalité, fraternité – these are far more than just aspirational words in my experience. They truly underpin the way the society is structured and run. I see liberté in the “lack” (to a British mind) of school uniform. I see égalité in the country’s healthcare and social security systems. I see fraternité in the very strong (again, from a British perspective) unions and workers’ groups.
Seeing values behind behaviour
Seeing the values that a country is upholding in its way of organising and doing things can help you to see its innocence or neutrality. This can in turn help with culture shock. Faced with behaviour that we find odd, a reply we consider rude, or a process that seems twisted, it can truly help to look for the value that is being honoured.
When my daughter started school, I complained to my husband that the list of required fournitures scolaires was ridiculously specific. We couldn’t just get notebooks; the school specified the size, number of pages, and even how big the little squares that covered each page had to be. To my British mind, this was some kind of nanny state on crack; to my husband, it was simply a way of ensuring that – to the extent possible – every child started school with the same stuff, the same possibilities, in other words, égalité.
Becoming more aware of your own culture and decoding the beliefs and values underpinning the culture of your host country will not necessarily change how you think or feel. But it will make you more tolerant and better equipped to deal with clashes and misunderstandings when they arise. Knowing where your culture and that of your host country might be at odds can help you anticipate difference and – literally – be less shocked by it.
Cultural awareness can get you a step closer to operating like an anthropologist, which is a perspective and way of functioning that I think every ex-pat should cultivate since it is a position from which we can observe and be fascinated by our subject while also being able to see it for what it is – not better or worse than us, just different.
Source : www.inspirelle.com
- Greet everyone. Taking the time to say good morning to your team and close colleagues goes a long way to fostering a sense of appreciation and respect. At the very least, it acknowledges people’s presence and contribution, and beyond that it shows you are approachable and happy to reach out to them. With so many of us working from home now, a first-thing team coffee break or walk round the office to say good morning can be replaced by regular lunches on days when people are in the office, or calls to check in and ensure everyone is well.
- Deliver praise. While we often congratulate people on a job well done in a one-to-one meeting or by email, delivering praise for team members during group meetings is a great way to boost morale and give everyone a chance to congratulate their colleagues and celebrate the team’s successes. Don’t wait for annual reviews to pat people on the back – recognition is like vitamin C. We need it in regular doses to stay motivated and feel appreciated.
- Delegate with trust. No-one likes being micro-managed. It is stressful, infantilising and disempowering. So when you choose to lighten your to-do list (see this month’s blog) by delegating a task or project, do so with trust. Make sure you brief the person taking on the task thoroughly, making it clear that you are available to help if they need, and, depending on their seniority, schedule in some check-in meetings to follow progress, then let it go. Showing you trust your team will help them trust themselves, each other, and you.
What does your to-do list look like today? Is it long, short, detailed, written down, in your head? I generally have two going at any one time – one for personal tasks (on a post-it), the other for work-related items (currently experimenting with Trello). I love lists in general, as I find they give me a sense of order and control. To-do lists, in particular, are helpful when I feel overwhelmed. I find making a structured list of the apparently million things I have to do makes me feel less dispersed, disorganised and fearful of forgetting things.
However, the list also has a dark side. Like with smartphones and social media, it can be very easy to let the tool we have created to help order our life start to order us about. To-do lists, for many people, can become a source of anxiety, guilt, frustration and overwhelm. This is often the case when the list gets too long, or when we get too attached to finishing the list, or when we feel the list is not of our own making but filled with tasks dictated by our friends, family, the boss, society, or indeed our own inner perfectionist.
Keeping the list in its rightful place – a useful tool, not a stick to beat yourself with – can be achieved, however, with a few mental adjustments and some simple re-organisation techniques. Here are some ideas for ensuring the list serves you and not the other way round!
Any re-thinking of your relationship with the to-do list must start with relinquishing the idea that the to-do list will ever be empty. One of my personal gurus, Richard Carlson, reminds readers in his bestselling Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, “that when you die, your “in basket” won’t be empty” and that this is, in fact, a good thing. Having stuff on your to-do list means you’re alive and active, that you have projects on the go, that people rely on you. Once you accept that the to-do list will never be blank, you can release the idea of having a perfect day when you finally get it all done and clear the decks. That is simply not possible, nor is it what life should be about.
Once you’ve got your head round that, there are numerous ways to restructure or reorganise your to-do list to make it feel more manageable.
Turn your to-do list into a plan
There is an old saying that coaches love which states that a goal without a plan is just a wish. The same idea can work for The List. The idea is that, wherever possible, instead of adding items to your to-do list, you open your diary and schedule in a slot for doing the task. So, for example, if you have to prepare a PowerPoint for a meeting in two weeks’ time, don’t just write it on the list. Instead, block three hour-long slots in your Outlook planner. You can now mentally take it off the to-do list as the task has been allotted time and scheduled. I do this with a page-a-day diary that serves as my to-do list notebook (yes, I’m completely analogue with these things). This avoids me having one massive to-do list that I have to prioritise every day and gives me short, daily lists so each morning I just look at what I’ve planned for myself and get on with it. When I don’t get everything done, I simply move remaining tasks to another list, depending on when I have time in my schedule. Not every task on the to-do list can be planned in this way, but by working like this for as many as I can, I find that my floating “get that done at some point” list stays very short. Some days – whisper it – I even eliminate it altogether!
Change the title
When I was interviewing for university, a literature fellow had me analyse a poem then asked the slightly sadistic question, “How would this poem be different if it were called Ten Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead?” Given that it was a love poem about Anne Boleyn by 16th-century writer Thomas Wyatt, even my jaw-achingly nervous 17-year old self was able to recognise and articulate that the title change would make a world of difference to the reader’s expectations of the text and its meaning.
Changing the title of your to-do list can have a similarly huge impact on how you relate to it. What happens when you change “To do” into “Could do”, or “Might do”? How does that alter the way you look at the list? Clients who put this into practice tell me that, even though the importance or necessity of the tasks on the list has not changed, this new title makes them feel lighter and less beholden to the tyranny of the list. The linguistic shift turns obligation into possibility.
This is a particularly powerful tool if you have a “should do” list that you run in parallel to your to-do list. That one’s particularly pernicious. A client taking a sabbatical year to retrain while her wife continues working told me recently, “I feel like I should be making dinner every night”. When she reframed that to “I could now make dinner every night”, what felt like a guilt-provoking obligation became simple one of many options. She also remembered that she actually enjoys making supper, but by “shoulding” on herself about it, she had turned it into a chore. So, another alternative is to re-name your list the “I want to” list, or the “I get to” list. This takes it a step further and turns obligation into a pleasure. This works for me when it comes to particularly tedious tasks. “Book my daughter a dentist appointment” becomes “I want to take care of my daughter’s teeth and am lucky to be able to do so”. “I have to do my tax declaration” becomes “I get to declare taxes for money made doing work I love”. It sounds slightly Pollyanna-ish, perhaps, but much of the time, it truly does help re-frame the list and my relationship to it.
Create more lists
In parallel to the to-do list, it can be helpful to create a couple of extra lists that take the load off. How would it feel to make a “Things I am going to delegate” list? Being able to delegate to your team or even your colleagues is an important skill. There is no glory in doing everything yourself, in fact it can often give staff the feeling you do not trust them, and having an overflowing inbox makes you look disorganised and incompetent. Knowing how and when to delegate crosses items off the to-do list and puts you in a position of overseeing projects and tasks. In your personal life, it is important – especially for women, I find – to let go of control, and with it responsibility, and allow other family members do their bit. Other lists might be “Tasks I need help with”, or “Tasks that will take under five minutes” (once you’ve written that, enjoy taking an hour or two to blast through them all).
In the end, how you deal with your to-do list matters much less than your relationship to it. However you choose to keep, manage and complete the to-do list, just make sure it is serving you – helping you to ensure your life runs according to your wishes – rather than the other way round.
Managing your time and tasks better starts with some deep, inner work around letting go, relinquishing control, and prioritising your real goals and deepest values. Working with a dynamic and experienced coach to rethink how you structure your personal and professional activities can help you find greater purpose and free up time to create a life and career built with purpose and on purpose. Contact me for your free introductory coaching session.
- Aim for balance. No-one wants an uninterrupted flow of criticism during an appraisal, but neither do we really want a shower of praise. One kills morale and motivation, the other is mood-boosting, but offers no opportunities for growth. When offering feedback – both professionally and personally – aim for a balance between what the person did well and what they can still improve.
- Get specific. Blanket statements like “You do great presentations” or “You don’t run meetings well” are unhelpful and sometimes confusing. Tell the person you are evaluating what makes their presentations so engaging – so that they continue to do them that way and even develop their technique! Tell the person what it is about meetings with them that doesn’t work for you – maybe they always run over time, there are no agenda or minutes, conversation is allowed to become a free-for-all. Making feedback specific makes it easier for them to turn comments into action points.
- Offer suggestions. Speaking of action, don’t leave a person dangling with a couple of “well-done” and “must try harder” lists, make concrete suggestions to help them improve. If your teen really needs to level up their algebra, make the point then suggest a few ways they could work towards this goal. If your manager (360° feedback exists!) seems distant and unapproachable, make this point gently and suggest a weekly one-to-one meeting and perhaps a monthly team lunch.
“This above all: to thine own self be true
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.”
So concludes Polonius’ famous soundbite-filled monologue to his son Laertes in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. In other words: know yourself and follow your own counsel. This is sage advice indeed but, like many of the character’s platitudes (such as “neither a borrower nor a lender be”), much easier said than done!
The first step towards staying true to yourself – and the one that Polonius spectacularly fails to acknowledge – is, of course, knowing yourself. Self-knowledge takes myriad forms: it’s about knowing where you come from, where you are going, what you want from life, and – crucially – the values by which you choose to live. We all value different things, and we all differ in awareness of the things we cherish and respect. Becoming more aware of our own values is the vital first step towards ensuring we honour those values on a daily basis and thus stay true to ourselves and the things in which we believe.
What are values?
Values – simply put – are the things to which we attach value. The things we would fight for, the things we pursue and celebrate. Examples of commonly held values are friendship, generosity, family, education, citizenship, honesty, self-improvement, perseverance, security. However, these values mean different things to each of us and are often best expressed in word groupings. To one person, the meaning of “citizenship” might be voting / political activism / social justice / seeking change; while another person might think of it as participating in community projects / volunteering / neighbourliness / supporting local facilities. And there’s no right answer. Your value is your value, and it means exactly what you choose it mean. The only person who really needs to know and understand it for it to have power is you.
Because awareness of our values does empower us. Knowing what you stand for can make everyday decisions easier and turn dilemmas into no-brainers. It can also increase your sense of agency in life, since – unlike inherent strengths or talents – values are something you can actively choose to espouse or eschew. It can also help you stick to your guns when your choices are questioned since you are more conscious of the foundations on which you have based your decisions.
Identifying your values
So how do we identify our values? Here’s the stuff that Polonius left out of his little father-son chat. Values can often be teased out of our strongest memories, both positive and negative. So, think of a time in your life when you felt on fire, like you were functioning at 100% and exactly where you needed to be. What are you doing, who is involved, what impact is being made? Alternatively, think of a time when you were angrier than you ever thought possible. Often, anger is a result of a strongly held value being violated in some way. For each memory, consider what’s at stake and what makes it so vivid. What is being cherished or promoted? Maybe you’re thinking of the day you got a big promotion (so perhaps you value hard work, justice or financial security?); or a time when you stood up for a kid getting bullied at school (courage, solidarity, kindness, fairness, decency, dignity?).
How values can work for you in the workplace
When you know and own your values, you gain a solid foundation on which to base your decisions. This is the kind of sense of identity that businesses often seek to create with their mission statement and lists of company core values like “excellence”, “teamwork” and “innovation”. While companies may run the risk of straying towards meaningless buzzwords and empty promises, when used well and applied properly, values offer staff and other stakeholders important guidance about what a company stands for and – wordplay alert! – the kind of value it aims to create.
Values work in much the same way on an individual level. A manager who knows what they value is more likely to be able to identify and attract like-minded team members and will more easily create a sense of team spirit. This is especially helpful when managing multicultural teams within which working methods and communication styles differ significantly. By using coaching exercises that bring staff members together around common values that they explore and develop as a group, creating a kind of team charter, I have supported managers to ease tension and promote collaboration within previously under-performing and “hard-to-handle” teams. And on an individual level – whether you are in an entry-level or C-Suite position – knowing and honouring your values in the workplace can help you set boundaries, handle conflict better, make tough choices, and create healthier relationships with colleagues.
The value of values
Whether you are seeking to be true to thine own self at home, within your family, or amongst colleagues in the workplace, knowing who you are is the unavoidable first step towards owning who you are. By taking some time to identify your values and look at how you honour them, along with how you can reinforce their presence in your life and let them serve you, you offer yourself a significant decision-making tool. You strengthen the foundation of your behaviour in every aspect of your life – as a parent, manager, friend, partner, worker and leader – and, it must follow, as the night the day, that you can indeed more easily stay true to yourself and be false to no man.
Would you like to increase your sense of self, make better choices, and boost your satisfaction, both personally and professionally? Working with a dynamic and experienced coach to explore who you are and what you stand for can help you – and your teams – find greater purpose, determination and drive – for a life and career built with purpose and on purpose. Contact me for your free introductory coaching session.
- Don’t analyse it. When you’re in a great mood, do you roll your sleeves up and get to work figuring out why you’re feeling so chirpy? No. So don’t do it when you’re feeling low! Often it’s simply inexplicable, so trying to identify all the things that are bringing you down will only pull those things front of mind and make you even more miserable. Accept that today’s an off-day and have faith that this too shall pass.
- Get up, take a walk. Make a cup of tea. Do a yoga video. Bake. Physically extract yourself from where you are and do something to – as the old-fashioned saying goes – “take you out of yourself”. Doing an activity that induces the famous state of “flow” can be helpful: art, writing, skilled manual work, like crafts, DIY. All these things require your concentration and help take your mind of your foul mood.
- Sink into it. If you can’t shake it off, revel in it. Throw yourself a full-on pity party complete with weepy film, chocolate and portable black hole to climb into. I find that giving myself permission to feel the sadness or anger or dissatisfaction helps dissipate it; what we resist, persists. I also find that after a couple of hours feeling thoroughly sorry for myself, I get fed up or annoyed with myself and end up doing something productive that changes my mood completely.