Building Cultural Intelligence with Trisha Carter


Bloom where you are planted

The pohutukawa tree in my front yard bloomed from July to November.

That may not mean much to you unless you are from New Zealand, the home of the pohutukawa.  There it blooms from November to January peaking from mid December and consequently, with it’s beautiful red flowers and dark green leaves, it’s known as the New Zealand Christmas tree.


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What is happening in the expat brain?

We know a lot about the brain, about how it learns and how it embeds the learning, building new neural patterns and pathways as it does so.  We know the optimal conditions for learning to be retained and remembered.

We know that this is exactly what expats need. To learn fast- and to retain the learning. 

It’s continuous learning over a whole range of aspects. From day-to-day learning like new currencies and driving rules, to spatial learning – creating the mental maps to orient themselves in their new environment, to language learning and different styles of communication, to work effectiveness with adaptations to management styles, appropriate ways to lead, influence and relate with each level of the organization – so much to learn!

The beginning of an expat assignment is continuous, non-stop, learning.

But it’s not just absorbing content –it’s also having the insight to recognise when to adapt and when to operate as you might at home. 

Neuroscience has uncovered some of the optimal conditions for learning to be retained and remembered.  How can this research help the expat brain?

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Speak out against racism

Lately the public discussion around differences in race and religion has grown ugly.  Ignorance, prejudice and hatred seem ready to bubble over easily.  People who might once have just thought in negative race related generalisations appear to be more comfortable speaking out and sharing those prejudices and biases.

“Don’t read the comments” my daughter says, “They’re just trolls”

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The First 90 Days - Expat Style

Michael Watkins wrote the book on adapting to a new role, “The First 90 Days: Proven Strategies for Getting Up to Speed Faster and Smarter.  In the Amazon advertising page he points out, “While transitions offer a chance to start fresh and make needed changes in an organization, they also place leaders in a position of acute vulnerability. Missteps made during the crucial first three months in a new role can jeopardize or even derail your success.”

If this is true for people transitioning into leadership roles at home, how much more vulnerable are those transitioning into expat roles where not just the role or the organization is different but also the background culture, underlying systems and unwritten rules of relationships? 

In any leadership role the new leader needs to prepare him / herself.  As Watkins says, adopt a learning approach, devise the most appropriate strategy, aim for early wins, build critical relationships with the new boss, new team and the new cohort and keep his / her balance while achieving results.  

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What did you just say?

Have you ever had a moment when you’ve said something you regretted?  The moment the words were out of your mouth you wished you could take them back?

I think we run an increased risk of experiencing those moments when we are living and working with another culture. 

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