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Building Cultural Intelligence with Trisha Carter


New Webinar: The First 90 Days in Your New Role Overseas

My latest webinar dealt with the challenges and experiences of the adaptations of the first 90 days in your new role overseas. For an individual settling into a new job there is a break even point between the value an employee takes in and the value that they give, this point is at about 90 days. However, for an employee taking on a new role in a new environment overseas that point may, in fact, be a little bit later. Regardless, that settling in period is an important building block for an employee and so this webinar helps to address that experience. 




Insiders and Outsiders – the pain and the gain

Panelists Trisha Carter, Ryan Haynes, Marian van Bakel at #FIGT16NL

In 2016, I led a panel at a Conference in Amsterdam.  ‘Insiders and Outsiders –Is Belonging Overrated?’. 

It was the conference of Families in Global Transition an organisation that speaks to the growth, success and well-being of people crossing cultures globally.

The people who were there were expats, migrants, global nomads.  But most of them weren’t the employee who was moved.

They were the partners and the children of those who had been moved around the world by corporations, diplomatic corps, military, missionary, or NGOs.  They were the people who fell in love and moved cultures to be with their partner, raising children who represent different cultures, speak multiple languages.  They were the people who had returned ‘home’ to find they no longer felt ‘at home’. And they were the educators, the service providers, the researchers and the writers who tell the stories and support these groups on their journeys.

If anyone knew about being on the outside – these conference attendees did

Our panel considered the feelings and behaviours of belonging and the feeling of being an insider.  We reflected personally on what it is like to not belong – to sit on the outside - the discomfort that outsider experience brings. 

Because it is uncomfortable being on the outside.  

Being in a room where we are different in some way from the others around us.  Where we don’t understand everything that is being said.  Or possibly don’t understand anything! It’s uncomfortable when people respond to us in unexpected ways, or ask us to operate in ways that seem inappropriate or unwise according to our cultural ways.

Our brain’s most natural response to this sort of discomfort is flight or fight. 

Our panel acknowledged the flight response – where the desire to belong and the difficulties of integrating can lead to fleeing to an ‘expat bubble’.   

Dr Marian van Bakel Assistant Professor at the University of Southern Denmark, shared her research in The Netherlands and repeated in Denmark, how mentoring from local people assisted expats to avoid that bubble.

Ryan Haynes, a High School Counsellor, who has worked in the USA, Thailand, Taiwan and Oman, spoke about a successful buddy system his school in Bangkok had introduced to assist new students as they arrived.

Ryan tells his students “Don’t be afraid to get lost.”

Back then we began a conversation about how to sit comfortably in the discomfort of getting lost -of being an outsider.

It is uncomfortable getting lost, feeling like we don’t know how to navigate the territory in which we find ourselves, being on the outside.  These things are wired into our brain’s automatic response system.

From the beginnings of time we have felt safest with those who were like us – our tribe - who would fight for us if we were threatened by outsiders.  The automatic response part of our brain tells us not to trust the outsider and not to feel safe when we are on the outside.

And yet being on the outside and having an outsider join us can be positive –even when it doesn’t feel good.

Research by Katherine Philips and her team show that adding an outsider to a team leads to better problem solving. 

We know this from a factual perspective - we know that diversity leads to better teams. 

What we often don't talk about, is how that feels. 

The more successful teams in Phillips’ research didn’t feel successful, didn’t feel comfortable, didn’t necessarily enjoy the experience. But they solved the problem significantly more often than those who were similar. 

It’s not just that diversity brings increased perspectives, Phillips research shows that the discomfort itself causes us to perform better. “More conflict… leads to better outcomes.” 

We need to learn to embrace the discomfort that diversity and outsiders bring.

We need to acknowledge that feeling, name it, and consciously will ourselves to continue in the situation. 

Only in this way, will our pre-frontal cortex override our automatic neural programming to remind ourselves that being different, being on the outside or having outsiders join us in our group, is our best opportunity for success.   

As Katherine Phillips says, “The pain is worth the gain.”


And this years FIGT Conference will be held in The Hague from 8th-10th March.  Register now!

I will be writing more on this topic in the coming months as I can see it impacting on many aspects in our work and lives.  If you want to explore further here are some other resources.

Brene Brown, Braving the Wilderness





The best gift is the gift of gratitude

It’s December.  The end of the year is fast approaching.  Here in Australia my family are preparing to celebrate Christmas.  There will be duck cooked on a BBQ on Christmas Day.  There will be swimming in the pool (remember it’s summer down this end of the world) some white wine in the sun, and gifts to share. 

I’ve written before about gift giving across cultures and about celebrations around the world at this time of year.

Last year I wrote about gifts that we have given to organisations supporting education and health in Papua New Guinea.

Our work in Papua New Guinea, with PNG expats coming to Australia, and expats from different countries moving to PNG, has continued this year so we have again made donations to the organisations; Buk Bilong Pikinini and Send Hope Not flowers

But the gift I want to focus on this year is the gift of gratitude. 

Gratitude activities, such as listing 3 Good Things that happen each day for a week, have been shown to have a significant impact on reported levels of well-being and depression. Fo those who continued the exercise beyond the suggested 1 week, researchers found the activity increased happiness and decreased symptoms of depression for up to 6 months of follow-up.

Gratitude is powerful. 

So  - I am grateful for the opportunity to work with you, to share ideas and learn from and with you all. 

I am grateful for new clients and opportunities, for new learning and growth. 

I am grateful for good health, for the opportunity to have fun with my family, for new babies in the whanau, and for the continued joy of having my mother alive to share things with. 

I am very grateful!




Language learning is aided by technology and knowing what works for you

In this webinar I interviewed Terry Neal who has been living in China for almost 18 months and working with focus and determination on learning Chinese - both written and spoken (Mandarin). 

Listen in.  If you're like me you'll be fascinated by the way she has used technology, and appreciate her strong self awareness of how she learns best.  Terry would be the first to say there is no one size fits all in learning a language.  As an expert in learning and educational processes and systems she has the theoretical ‘how’ of best learning experiences and uses that to support the reality of her daily learning.  

Whatever language you are learning or thinking about learning this will be an inspiration and encouragement. 


You've arrived -And suddenly you're important!

Photo by Danny Kekspro on UnsplashSome cultural differences are difficult to adapt to.  Sometimes we are acutely aware of them and sometimes they niggle at the edge of our awareness.

Our last discussion was about differences in who gets status and is respected, and how that difference plays out in workplaces and society. We spoke about ‘power distance’

‘the way in which power is distributed in a group and the extent to which less powerful members of the group accept and expect that power to be distributed unequally.   Showing deference and respect is important in High Power Distance (HPD) or hierarchical cultures but not so critical in a Low Power Distance (LPD) or egalitarian culture.’

In that post I wrote about the impact on people moving from a society that is high power distance (HPD) to one that is lower (LPD) and the attitude and behavioural flexing they may need to be effective in a workplace.

This time I want to look at those moving from a LPD society such as from Australia to a more HPD society. 

This may not initially appear as too much of an issue.

Behaviours may seem more formal.  There might be more use of titles.  Your suggestions people call you by your personal name rather than your family name may be ignored. 

These aspects may leave you feeling less close to people but you accept them knowing it’s the way things happen here. 

What can be more difficult to accept is the silence in the team meeting when you’ve asked for suggestions on how to improve things.  People not coming to you with problems or issues despite your assurances of ‘my door is always open’. 

The hierarchy becomes a barrier to the type of collaborative relationships you have easily built in the past and instead of a team environment it feels much more like a “boss” and “workers” situation.

The risk here is almost unconsciously stepping into that role of “boss” and relating to your team from a perspective of power -becoming the expat who shouts and demands, who doesn’t see the locals as capable of growth or development. This is where developing and using CQ Strategy becomes critical.  Being aware of the differences and planning how to work effectively within them.  Reflecting with a coach on how to develop and use your cultural intelligence in these situations can be extremely helpful .

Another risk in HPD societies may be acting in ways that are not appropriate to the level you should be operating in.  Your dress, your manners or apparent ignorance of the cultural etiquette may be marking you as not deserving of the position you hold and you may lose respect from your colleagues, from local officials.

Once lost that respect can be hard to regain despite your important expat position.