If you're a new (or old) expatriate, these tips can help you to successfully manage change.
This fall, I will celebrate living in Germany for 9 consecutive years and 11 altogether. Of course, over this time, I've learned more than 10 things, but thought I'd share these with you.
1. Leberwurst doesn't taste as bad as I thought it always would. As long as there are some pickles with it.
2. It is possible to have complete darkness in the bedroom at 2 p.m. thanks to outside shades.
3. Home-made air conditioning is possible and works in a solidly built German home.
4. Swimming naked is really as great as everyone says it is. I really don't like swimming suits anymore.
5. You can learn German. It's a logical language. Well, most of the time. Handschuh = hand shoe.
6. Even when you learn German, there will still be something you don't understand. Always.
7. And if you understand it, it doesn't mean that you can actually remember how to spell it. After 9 years, I almost always speak in German but write very often in English.
8. Just when you want to cross the street on red, the 'Sei ein Vorbild für Kinder' sign stops you in your moral tracks and you wait for green.
9. I may never be able to correctly pronounce ü and u. This, as my last name is Müller, a challenge, especially when spelling my name on the phone. Jamie also proves tricky. 'Wie der Koch, wie der Koch.' = Like the cook, like the cook.
What have you learned since living abroad?
I often include this in the workshops I deliver:
'I am not here to tell you how to think. But I am asking you to think.'
Somewhere along the way, we have forgotten how to listen and think about what is happening around us.
Start thinking. Start asking questions. Question your assumptions about the other.
And then shut up and listen to the answer.
Communicating effectively across cultures as a team member or a leader takes time and practice. Lots of practice.
In case you need a reminder, here are some helpful tips to improve your communication across cultures.
1) Decide on how formal to be. Consider the other culture’s issues of respect such as terms of address, age, manner of speech, body language, eye contact, dress, and personal space. Too much informality may be interpreted as disrespect.
2) Don’t rush to get down to business. Establish the relationship first. For example, too often US Americans are results oriented without sensitivity to the “people” ingredient.
3) Never assume anything. Observe, listen, and take your cues from others. Provide clear reasons and background information for all requests or changes. The listener may not understand why you need or what you are asking for.
4) Be aware of your verbal communication style. Slow down and use simple words. Avoid colloquialisms or slang, particularly sports analogies. Never shout.
5) Be empathetic. Realize that the other speaker may be having as much difficulty and frustration as you are.
6) Be aware of your own cultural bias. Realize that each person perceives the world through the filters of his or her own cultural glasses, and that your way of seeing things is just that - your way of seeing things.
7) Don’t be quick to judge. Don’t jump to conclusions until you have all the information you need to understand the situation. 100% certainty can be very dangerous!
8) Rephrase, confirm and repeat to ensure understanding. A “yes” may not mean real understanding or agreement as much as being polite. Conversely, don’t pretend to understand when you do not.
9) Be careful with humor. Jokes can be easily misunderstood and can do more harm than good.
10) Be patient. Communicating across cultures takes longer. Plan for more time needed.
Get culture bumps