Author Archives: valerie

About valerie

I work with business owners to help them reinforce their business sustainability . I coach and train professionals working in an international environment or being part of a multinational team.

Create Your Tribe

We all live in circles of friends, family, co workers and acquaintances. No matter how shy we are, we have to interact with people on a daily basis. Your network of relationships is part of your assets. Assets are things that we have and that contribute positively to our lives, be it professional or personal.

Relationships can be great assets!. Like any other asset you have, it needs energy, time and personal commitment. These relationships are even more crucial when you work in an environment unfamiliar to you as an expat or when you make a career change or start running your own business. It is not enough to have a number of business cards lying on your desk or having a number of “friends” on Facebook. Personal engagement with your network is important on a regular basis. Real and committed engagement is about getting to know each one of them, making a connection. This takes time and a genuine effort to invest in your network.

Creating a strong rapport takes place over time and it requires a strong commitment to add value to the lives of the people you engage with. Walking the extra mile to show appreciation is the personal touch that you can add. Whatever value you can add is all about your personality, your talents and your life experiences. Each interaction will determine how strong your interpersonal skillset is and how confident you are in being able to bring something that your network will value.

Adding value is not a one off thing that you can do at the start of any relationship. It is a continuous process of exchange between two persons. The universal law of giving and receiving ensures that there is a balance and allows for the relationship to be of value to both parties. It is quite unhealthy to be always at the receiving or giving end. It creates frustration, resentment when things go wrong.

Achieving that balance allows you to leverage your network. SME’s are usually run by small teams of 1-3 people at most. Taping into your relationships allows you to have access to a broader range of skills and experiences. You may even create a mastermind group of your peers whose skills set and experience is complementary to yours. For expats, having a wider network allows you to broaden your scope, possibly add value to your new job and they can be the support that you need during the early days of your new life and new career phase.

Your network can definitely be part of your net worth when you regularly engage, add value and leverage your relationships.

Cultural Etiquette – An Important Ingredient In A Multi-Cultural Environment.

In today’s world, there are more and more people looking to relocate for a better future. London is a good example of a diverse cultural workforce. You have people with Jamaican, Nigerian, Spanish, French cultural background working and living in London. Their kids will be of a hybrid cultural background. Over time, more and more of the younger generations will be of mixed cultures. London is not the only place where there is a melting pot of cultures. Some countries such as Singapore, Mauritius were populated by migrants from various parts of the world. People born and raised there, had to create a new cultural identity over time as they found themselves different from their culture of origin.

Social cohesion is sometimes not only a result of economic prosperity or the fact that most of us are all law abiding citizens. Cultural etiquette is also important when we live in a multi-cultural environment. There are boundaries to be respected and an awareness that our behaviour can offend without us knowing why. Learning about other cultures can sometimes be difficult because of the tendency to stereotype. Sometimes, people are not so willing to share their cultural heritage because of a lack of trust. So, here are a few tips to bear in mind

1. Time and Space
People’s relationship with time varies. Punctuality is not always upheld as some people are more focused on leaving the meeting on a good note. As long as they feel that they have not yet built the rapport they need, they may prolong the meeting. In their views, relationships are what matters most.

Personal space is not always easy to respect especially at peak times in public transport. When it comes to making friends or reaching out to people, it is useful to know that some people do not like any friendly pats on the back or being physically close. Hugging is also very uncomfortable unless you have known each other for a while. People may see that more as a violation of their personal space. Though they may not say anything, it may send the wrong message.

2. Clothing
We all have different tastes in clothes, some more obvious than others. Respecting people’s choices is important though their choices may seem alien to us. I was agreeably surprised when I went to New York for the first time. It was amazing to see such a diversity of clothing style. This would not be case in some other parts of the world where people tend to conform to certain implicit norms. No matter how people look different from each other, they all seek the same thing: happiness. They are all trying their very best to achieve their goals. This is what is most important to bear in mind when it comes to meeting people with a different dress code.

3. Language
We all speak English and yet we don’t always understand each other. Speaking English with an accent or using slang or professional jargon can make communication more difficult. Using simple language and speaking slower build better rapport with others. Getting used to different accents are also useful as what matters is the strength of the rapport that you build with the other person. Do not allow an accent or a wrong pronunciation mislead you.  That same person may become a great friend over time or it may be one of your best clients ever.

20 years ago, it was a novelty to find so many different languages spoken in one location. Today, we have a number of cities, across the world, where you can listen to French, German, Japanese, and many other languages being spoken all in the same place. Learning to be “politically correct” is essential if you want to raise your profile in a culturally diverse environment.

Finetuning Your Mindset To Be Successful In The Global Arena

The world has shrunk thanks to social media (Twitter, Linkedin, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest) and to the emergence of cloud computing. Today, your team members, located in various countries, can work on the same documents online and you can all converse via Skype, Webex. The work place can now be a virtual office. Your website is a showcase to the whole world as e commerce is becoming a way of life for busy people or for people looking to buy goods and services not available in their home country.

Your next client is not necessarily living in the same country as you. Speaking the same language does not imply that there will be no misunderstandings.

To reap the rewards of working in a multinational team or to capitalise on your online commercial presence is about adopting a mindset that improves your cultural intelligence. Your cultural sensitivity starts with a genuine respect for other cultures, no matter what their outward appearances, their accents or way of life are. Withholding judgement and having great active listening skills are necessary for the right connections to be made.  Many cultures favour an indirect style of communication where body language gives you important cues about what is truly being said.

The quality of relationships is also considered as an asset by many business communities across the world. It is not about how many people you know but how truly you know your business acquaintances. The strength of the rapport determines whether they will do business with you or not. Because English is spoken widely, people tend to assume that there is no need to know about the customs and traditions of their counterpart.  This is totally wrong. Getting to know their social values and customs helps to understand their viewpoints and helps you to create win win outcomes for all parties involved. It actually reduces the complexity of doing business outside your local borders.

Working in a multinational environment requires a high tolerance for ambiguity and an ability to maintain performance during periods of uncertainty. There will be times when you will be spending a huge amount of time in meeting and discussing and yet no outcome has been reached. Your ability to influence will be tested in these situations and losing your cool can be seen as disrespectful and immature. Diversifying your range of negotiation skills will allow you to be more versatile and makes it easier to achieve your goals.

Building your psychological fortitude helps to manage the unexpected. Going into uncharted territories rarely goes as planned. Being humble allows you to accept that mistakes are inevitable and are opportunities to acquire new knowledge and skills.

Finetuning your mindset is all about acquiring soft skills, reviewing your beliefs and making regular self assessment of where you are in your journey to position yourself in the global arena.  Using personal development tools such as The International Profiler helps as it is an objective benchmark and comes with the professional support of a cross cultural coach to whom you can be accountable.

In today’s world, the past is no longer a prediction of the present or the future. Your approach to building your business or career will need to evolve at the same pace as society is evolving and that includes the whole world.

 

 

Tips For A Successful Repatriation.

Expatriation usually comes with great financial terms. When the children are growing up or when you grow tired of packing up every 3-4 years, most of you would want to go back home.

You would need to prepare for an exit strategy. A number of options would be available : going back to your previous work place or start a new job or set up your own business or retire. You would want to be in a position where you have some freedom to make up your mind.

Wealth Management
To do that, it is useful to have an investment plan. Investing your surplus income helps to ensure that when it is time to come back you are better off than when you started. There are many asset classes to invest your monies and it all depends on the time horizon. It will also depend on your financial needs at the time you come back. Will you need to pay school or university fees? Will you want to buy a bigger house or are you looking to set up a business?

These are some of the questions that you need to ask right at the beginning. You would want to ask for professional advice from your personal banker.

Most importantly, you need to make sure that whatever currency you are earning your income as an expat, you can easily convert into your home currency. It may be a good option to start wiring back part of your income into your bank account at home every quarter whilst you are working overseas . Foreign currencies fluctuate daily so you may want to ask your banker to do the transfers at a certain rate or negotiate the rate if the amount is substantial.

Investing in various assets such as bonds, properties, stocks are important to minimize risks. Although properties are known to keep their value, it is also not a liquid asset. Also, the level of net income earned from renting and after accounting for regular maintenance, may not lead to a great return on investment.

Tax Implications
Living abroad implies that you are no longer a resident of your home country. Would you still be expected to pay taxes at home? Would you need to pay taxes as an expat? It is important to take the right advice so that you don’t get caught up being worse off at the end of your expatriation.

Laws and Regulations
Will the laws of the country where you will be working apply to you? In case, you want to grow the family, will your new born child automatically be a citizen of your home country or is there additional paperwork to be done? The consulate or embassy representing your home country can be a good source of information.

New Mindset
When living abroad as an expat, one tends to enjoy all the perks that come with it. However, it is important to be down to earth in managing your life. Keeping in touch with friends and family also helps to keep a regular reality check. The “cultural” shock of coming back will be lesser.

You will undoubtedly change after having lived abroad for some time. Your life has been enriched by having experienced a different way of living and different cultural norms. Your new mindset can become an asset at work and your ability to cope with uncomfortable situations may have improved. Staying in touch with the family helps them to get to know a different version of you when you are back home. Their expectations will not be so different from reality.

Network
Find a way to network in your industry either online or through membership of professional and business associations. If over 50% of your network is made up of your colleagues and friends, then make an effort to widen it. Network in the local business community as some cultures is more about relationships and less about your resume. Networking can potentially give you access to new jobs and business opportunities. Improve your profile by learning the local language if it is widely used in other parts of the world as well. Keep track of the latest worldwide industry trends as well as the local/regional economic trends. When it is time for you to go home, you won’t feel so much like a fish out of water. In addition, you can now capitalise on the fact that you have widened the scope of your network.

Repatriation is all about planning and learning to pace yourself to unlearn all the habits that serve you as an expat and learn new habits that will help you make a successful return to home.

Tips For A Successful Expatriation

Successful expatriation is about making the most of the present. Life as an expat is not that glamorous, high flyer as one seems to think.

There is a perceived lack of support as you are not with your familiar circle of friends. Conversations on Skype or What’s App can’t replace the physical absence of your loved ones. Reconstructing your support system is important. Make it a point to pursue a few activities that bring you joy –gym, swimming, photography, hiking, group meditation, etc. Not having enough time or blaming it on the weather is not a good excuse. This is about making a commitment to your personal wellbeing.

Being part of a new team and a new work environment can make you feel lonely. Loneliness is a construct of the mind. It is important that you look after yourself by being aware of your emotions, doubts and fears. In these moments, you will ask yourself whether you have made the right decision or not. Recall your WHY and review it to ensure that you are in the right place and at the right time. Address your doubts by listing all the pros and cons of this new phase in your career. It is ok to admit that this may not be the right choice rather than hiding the truth from you. Be patient with yourself as you learn to navigate between confusion and clarity.

Create a lifestyle that helps to ease off the loneliness. Find out about the great places that you can visit, the great foods that you can try, the list of activities that this new home offer. As you plan your weekends in doing stuff that you have never done before, you will inevitably meet new people outside your work place and widen your social circle. The “novelty effect” of your new home will wear off after the first six months and by then, you will find yourself having a new routine. This new lifestyle of yours would not have been possible if you have chosen to stay in your home country.

Be curious and find out more about the local traditions and history of the place. Learning about the local culture actually is making a step out of your social comfort zone. Getting to know the natives is enriching. Learning about their traditions, way of living can bring you to a new understanding of the mysteries of life. Most people are ready to step out of their comfort zone for their career but not so many will do so when it comes to social relationships. I personally think that this is the biggest golden nugget of being an expat. You may end up building life long friendships with some of them.

Building relationships can be quite challenging in your new home. There is the possibility that being the friend of an expat is seen as being quite advantageous. Learning to put strong boundaries whilst remaining friendly and diplomatic is a great skill to acquire. It is easier to be with people of similar cultural background or with other expats, However that defeats the purpose of living abroad.

Interaction with the locals helps you to understand the local environment and shows a personal commitment to be socially part of your new home. Meeting people out of their workplace actually helps to build stronger relationships and mutual respect. Most expats struggle with understanding the intricacies of living a “normal” life in their new home country. Their jobs provide them with perks that are not usually accessible to the normal man in the street. They are not in touch with the local realities. Having to deal with the day to day demands such as going to the local market, fixing a tap leak at home becomes a challenge as they are not comfortable in dealing with the locals. This is an additional unnecessary pressure that can be easily addressed by gradually getting to know the local customs and being part of the local scenery.

Building your resilience is about getting used to being in uncomfortable situations. An expat’s life is the best ground for learning to be resilient. There will be unexpected challenges as your perception of reality is influenced by your cultural norms and values. Learning to take things as they come and go is very useful. Being able to let go of your expectations and keeping an open mind is half of the battle won. A successful expatriation is not about meeting your professional targets only. It is about making the most of your time in this new home of yours. There will be undoubtedly some golden nuggets to take away once it is time for you to leave.

Immigration – A Step Further Away From Expatriation

Relocating to a country to settle down is not exactly the same as working as an expat in a foreign country. As an expat, your future in your temporary home is partly determined by the length of your work contract and you are determined to make the most of it so that it brings you one step higher on the corporate ladder.

Relocation for settlement is reinventing yourself in a place that you hope to call home. Settling in a new country requires a lot of resilience, strong life coping skills and a huge dose of healthy self confidence. What you currently know as your “home”, your “roots” will now transform into a whole new meaning. A different perspective will be given to your life starting from day ONE you start this new phase of your journey.

There has been since the beginning of civilisation, movement of people from one country to another and from one continent to another. In the early 1900’s, when there was no internet and globalisation was not yet a reality, immigrants had no clue what they will find in their new home. They hanged on to the hope that a better future awaits them in their adopted “home”.

For today’s new generation of immigrants, things seem to be easier. There is so much information available on the internet. There are a number of professionals offering support services to help them settle down and immigration rules have been formalised in most countries. In terms of lifestyle, there seems to be a few similarities with the emergence of well known brands such as Russell Hobbs, Colgate, Nike, Apple becoming household names in a number of countries.

However, the complexity of starting afresh in a new place is still very much present. Doing business varies from country to country. Building a social network can also be a challenge. When you are out of your comfort zone, the instinctive response is to look for familiar cues such as meeting countrymen having done the same journey as you or befriending like minded individuals going through the same experience.

A successful integration would require that you hone your personal commitment to get out of your comfort zone and nurture a willingness to explore and learn. You will be facing challenges that you would not have anticipated such as your accent does not allow for a smooth communication and you feel undermined. Your clothing style makes you stand out and you are not comfortable with it so you make a compromise to fit in. These are tiny details that you may not have included in your relocation plan and yet they are powerful enough to shake your natural ability to bounce back.

Any challenge is an opportunity to develop new skills, strengthen existing ones and raise your self awareness further. Looking at challenges as positive opportunities is an ordeal in itself but yet so powerful to create a brand new perspective when life gets in the way of you achieving your goals. Remind yourself of the times you had to face challenges that you found daunting and you have successfully overcome it. Well, this is the same thing again. Life throws stuff at you as a means of teaching you how resourceful and resilient you can be.

Super heroes are ordinary people who continue on living by bouncing back from any challenge to achieve what they most desire.

What Influences Your Choices?

Some will rely on their guts instincts, others will review the facts and there will be a few of you who will use both your guts and factual information. It is important to understand what is your personal decision making process especially when it comes to making life choices such as immigrating, getting married, having your first child, buying your first home. Making life changes can sometimes lead to utter frustration, a sense of despair and your self confidence can take a hit as you dawns upon you that you have made those choices of your own free will.

Major changes such as relocating to a new country implies that there is a learning curve to go through and an opportunity cost to bear as the price of creating a new “home”. You will be having mixed feelings as you go through the learning curve and with new knowledge come confusion. What will guide you is your Inner Compass – your sense of direction and set of core values.

Everybody has values – integrity, flexibility, consistency etc. There are values that are non negotiable: those are the ones that no matter what happens in your life, you won’t compromise on any of them. Integrity is one good example. Your core values are part of  your inner compass in confusing times and they give you a sense of direction when you are facing pressures which question your sense of worth.

Your Inner Compass is the foundation of your life. How do you know whether you have a strong inner compass or not? Review your past life choices when you had to make transformational changes. What motivated you in those times? What is your decision making style and how do you make up your mind?

When your Inner Compass is strong, you have clarity and focus. Both are important when you move to the next phase of your career/life and with a strong sense of direction, challenges are easier to manage. You can’t avoid challenges and you can’t avoid making mistakes. This is how we all grow as professionals and as a person. What you are looking for is a set of core values that will guide you in your choices. This is your Inner Compass.

Do you know how strong your Inner Compass is? Have you had time to define it and build it over time? To know your sense of direction, you can probably review your life choices with a life coach or discuss them with your mentor. You can also keep a journal and jot down your feelings and thoughts as you go on your journey. Over the years, the journal becomes your own personal reference document that can help you review. Self introspection is useful when you are able to step out of the “story”. If you are looking for a life coach, please refer to well known associations of professionally qualified coaches who have received specialised training to do their job,

 

Cross Cultural Intelligence – CQ

Psychometric testing has long been used to determine your strengths and weaknesses, your behavioural attitudes and based on the results, how well you fit with the job you are currently doing and more importantly, whether you are a good fit with the corporate culture of your employer. In the international arena, a number of aptitude tests exist to determine which areas you have focused upon and how strong are you in those areas. As there is always an opportunity cost to any choice you make, there will also be areas where you have not paid any attention to because they are not relevant to the jobs you were given or they are areas where you don’t feel particularly comfortable.

Over time, as your career develops, you will be asked to diversify your skillset depending on the type of responsibilities you have in your job. In the case where you are working in a team of multiple nationalities, or you are dealing with international clients, there are certain skills set that are critical if you want to pursue an international career. Some examples are Openness, Flexibility, Listenning Skills and Cultural Knowledge. These skills are also relevant in your local market. However, they become essential when you deal with people coming from different cultural background, behaving in ways that are “normal” to them but not so much to you.

The world is now becoming a small village with the possibility of interacting with people of different nationalities in the same country.  A number of people think that “I have travelled to a number of countries so I should be ok”. Travelling to countries as a tourist and working in those same countries is not the same thing. Speaking the same language does not necessarily guarantee that there won’t be any misunderstandings in your business dealings with third parties. Cross cultural intelligence is important if you want to be better prepared to manage the hurdles of working in a multinational team or working as an expat in a foreign country.

Cross cultural intelligence (CQ) is the natural evolution from Intelligence Quotient (IQ) and Emotional Quotient (EQ). CQ covers aspects that Emotional Intelligence does not take into account. Assessing where you are in terms of cross cultural intelligence is possible by going through one of the aptitude tests. There are a number of them available: Argonaut, The International Profiler (TIP) etc. I have been trained on using the TIP to help my clients make their own self-assessment. The TIP covers a variety of skills as well as emotional strength which is about the ability to cope with the unexpected and managing your personal stress.

These tools are best used with the help of a cross cultural coach to whom you can be accountable to in the event you want to work on strengthening existing skills to include them in your strength areas or you are looking to build new skills.