How to avoid culture shock as “expat”

In cross culture, emotional intelligence, global communication competence, globalization, multi culture on September 1, 2009 at 7:06 pm

Failure rates of expatriates continue sky high!

Aborted assignments as high as 40%.  The sad story behind the figures is that a dramatic improvement is possible with very basic and inexpensive means.  A highly motivate professional, with the right set of skills, might return because the spouse cannot handle the new environment or its culture.    Several studies have documented family related reasons as the main reason for aborted assignments, such as:

* The spouse’s difficulty to adjust.

* The employee’s difficulty to adjust.

* The employee’s personal or emotional immaturity.

* Other family issues and problems.

So where in the selection process are HR departments or management teams taking the wrong way?  Too much focus on job competence and compensation packages, and way too little focus on personality and family issues is my experience.   It is a costly mistake each and every time.

Check list for improved selection:  Employee selection criteria

Three areas an effective selection process should consider in selecting a candidate: self-orientation, others-orientation and perceptual-orientation.

Self-orientation focuses on activities and attributes that strengthen the expatriate’s self-esteem, self-confidence and mental health.  Such attributes might include

* Stress-reduction skills – the ability to recognize potential conflicts and circumvent negative reactions.

* Reinforcement substitution – the ability to replace pleasurable home activities with substitute activities in the host country.

* Technical competence – the ability to accomplish tasks with self-confidence, sometimes with little or no help.

* The ability to deal with alienation and isolation.

Others-orientation focuses on activities and attributes that enhance the expatriate’s ability to interact effectively with host-country nationals (HCNs). These include

* Relationship skills – the ability and willingness to develop long-lasting friendships with HCNs.

* Language skills – more than fluency, this refers to a willingness to use the local language as often as possible, without fear of being incorrect, sounding silly or stupid, in a desire to understand and relate to HCNs.

* Understanding importance of nonverbal communication, including the ability to pick up on nonverbal body language in the host country, which may have different meanings than it does in the home country.

* Respect and empathy for others.

Perceptual-orientation focuses on the ability to understand why foreigners do what they do.  These skills include

* High tolerance for ambiguity, being nonjudgmental – waiting to accumulate all the facts before jumping in with an opinion, stereotype or incorrect decision.

* Being open-minded and being able to make correct assumptions about the reasons or causes of HCN behavior.  Knowing how HCNs will likely react to situations reduces the stress of uncertainty in personal interactions.

Having worked with the topic of foreign assignments both in theory, and later through several challenging experiences of my own, I find it very rewarding now to assist new generations of expatriates to master the challenges this exiting experience offer.

Some further reading:  BNET

Follow my blog on globalization at Globalization4U

Copyright 2009 Anders Haug Thomassen, Gjøvik, Norway.  You are encouraged to use this material as long as you mention the source.  Comments are more than welcome!

For professional contact:  Anders Haug Thomassen home site

For background on me: LinkedIn

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