Posts Tagged With: language

Travel, a way to reconnect with yourself

After a long wait, I have finally found the time to travel back to South East Asia and Australia to visit friends and family. I really missed traveling, that said when one works it is not always easy to take time out and venture on such a long trip, but this year was about reconnecting, so Singapore and Australia here I come.

On my way to Australia I stopped for a few days in Singapore. I used to live there for about a year and a half 8 years ago, and my goodness does the city change. It is so fascinating when you come back to identify the changes, observe the people and walk through the streets you used to walk through with fresh eyes and new perspectives.

I wasn´t in Singapore for long so I could not visit everyone but one thing which is always fantastic for me and so close to my heart is to meet up with my great local friends that always take time out to spend time with me and continue teaching me about Singaporean culture. I cannot thank them enough for this, and to be honest it is such a treat and honour, I really hope some of you have such great friends that never cease to teach you about their culture !

My Singapore stop was thus reconnecting with friends, with my previous life here and to be honest I really felt like a Singaporean, there is something about having lived in a city that makes you a part of it, such a wonderful feeling. My two days in Singapore were done and I was now flying to Sydney where my sister was waiting for me.

I stayed in Sydney and surroundings for about two weeks and a half, and in these two weeks and a half I ventured out every day with my camera under my arm to discover new areas, new sites and new perspectives. I had been in Australia in 1999 and in 2009 and everytime I go back i always feel this positive energy from nature and being so close to the ocean. Very invigorating and resourcing. This time around I was privileged to be invited in my sister´s boyfriend family´s house, i got to spend two days in an Australian home and it was amazing. I learned more about the culture, about the family dynamics but also how people perceive life and that again provided me with new perspectives and ways of looking at life and the world which is very important for my learning but also teaching in the intercultural field.

After my two weeks and a half away i felt re-energised, revitalized and full of new ideas which I hope I can share with my clients, colleagues, friends and family.

The moral of this story is that traveling does open up our minds more and even if you have lived or visited a place before, you always find and discover something new when you come back and your roots and belonging to that one culture you left a few years back continues to grow when you come back and resync with your past experiences.

PS.: If you like the pictures you see they are available on: http://chameleonpictures.zenfolio.com/  – you can find more pictures of other destinations under all photographs: http://chameleonpictures.zenfolio.com/f583482853

And if you need any support as an expatriate, repatriate or global nomad, feel free to contact us: http://www.be-a-chameleon.com, thank you

 

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The concept of multiculturation

 

When you first move to another country as an expatriate or an immigrant, you start your international journey by being “ethnocentric”. What we mean by that is that until now, you only have had experience with people from your own culture and with colleagues or friends from other cultures, so you tend to perceive things according to your own cultural values and beliefs.

Once you reach your new destination, you start discovering that the culture in which you are now is different, and you go through many different stages, there are 7 stages.

The first stage is ethnocentricity, so we see things according to our own values and beliefs, but we are in a new country and we start recognizing that there are differences. This is the second stage we go through, awareness that things are different in our new destination and that the culture we now live in has different values.

The third stage leads us to understanding, we have now spent a few months in our new country and have surrounded ourselves with locals and have discovered many things about how to communicate with them and about the local culture, so we are in the understanding phase.

Sometimes you may experience that some of the cultural values of your host country do not meet yours, this is perfectly normal, it is a period of adaptation and understanding and this phase is called acceptance that there are differences between both cultures.

Once you accept the differences between your culture and your host culture you enter the appreciation phase. This phase is about recognizing that certain aspects of the new culture are appealing to you. For example, I have had clients that told me that after 6 months in the UK, they really appreciated the order and the fact that people were not very loud and that when they got back to their home Country it annoyed them. So there are many things that one can appreciate from another culture.

The next stage is the selective adoptation, so after a while you will take some of the new cultural values into your own values, it could be little things such as more order or Organisation in your life, a collectivistic approach to your colleagues and the people around (caring about each other and watching out for each other). I like to think that everywhere we go we take something away with us, we always keep a little piece of the country we have lived in with us.

And the last stage of course is multiculturation, where you feel that your values are a mix of your own culture and the cultures you have lived in and you feel like you belong to the world, and would be confortable anywhere in the world.

 

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Working in a multi-cultural team

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Working in multi-cultural Teams whether face to face or virtually is becoming a given today. Indeed, through globalisation and relocation of businesses across the globe we are faced with the reality that the person we are likely to work with in our team will be from a different culture.

But what does that entail ?

As you can imagine there are advantages as well as disadvantages. Remember that we see the world through our own cultural lens, and the person working alongside us may see it from his/ her cultural lens, so this may mean that these two views may differ. If we look at it as a disadvantage this would mean that there would be miscommunication between the different parties, different expectations and different understandings of status/ hierarchy which could lead the Team to underperform. On the other hand if we look at it from a positive side, i.e. as an advantage it would mean that bringing these different views together would give a bigger picture and thus more solutions to a problem and thus more creativity. Hence a higher performance.

But how do we get team members to work well together ?

To get team members to work well, these should understand that they come from different cultures and have different views and expectations, Another important issue here is language as well;  although we all speak English, we may actually not understand each other because of accents or vocabulary that we use, and examples could be that a member of a team is perceived as rude because he/ she is crude in what he/ she says. But this may be due to the lack of vocabulary or because he/she is not as comfortable with his/ her English as you may be! It is the same with humour, although humour is used to relax atmosphere it can be perceived as offensive by someone else if they do not understand sarcasm or your joke and vice-versa.

So when working face to face with colleagues from a different culture always listen actively, if you do not understand what they mean or say just ask for clarifications, if you feel that you are treated in a certain way, raise the issue and discuss it to not let frustration disturb the team dynamic; and from time to time get together and talk about each other´s cultures to understand one another better !

When you work virtually, the difference will be when you work with relationship based cultures such as Asian or Latin cultures. Today we communicate a lot by phone and Skype, but sometimes it is easier for us to just pick up the phone and call our colleagues at the other end of the world. Now experience has shown that for relationship based cultures, phone calls are not enough to build a relationship amongst team members. To build trust and relationships, it is best to use Skype or Video conferencing which will create a face to face relationship and probably enhance the team performance. Just try it out and see how powerful it can be and how quick it can change the relationships between team members and thus increase performance and bond within the team.

Also do feel free to contact us to know more or if you have tips to share, please do comment !

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Being culturally aware is not only about others but also about ourself !

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When working internationally, managers and organizations focus on their business partners and clients. What are their needs, their demands, and how can these be met ?

Meeting the customer´s demand and providing excellent customer service is of utmost importance in today´s global and competitive business world.

Being aware of cultural differences through leading intercultural teams, working with business partners from other countries and doing business on a global scale is of the essence. Many organizations are aware of the need to be culturally aware, however do they take the right steps to achieve this awareness ?

Many businesses and mostly SMEs fail on the international scene as they lack the know how and awareness, training their managers and leaders would be a strategic advantage that could secure them further business abroad.

Business failure starts already with the communication: how do the managers communicate with their business partners and customers ? Then it is about customs: what is important for my customer ? Relationship or business ? How do I introduce myself ? How do I speak about business if we are at a social event ? How should I interact ? What kind of question may I ask ?

And when working in intercultural teams: how do I need to communicate with my fellow team members ? What is acceptable behaviour ? How do I provide feedback to my colleagues ? How can I bring my team to work more harmoniously to increase its performance ?

As we can see all these questions are about behaviour and how we should behave towards others. When doing business internationally it is of course the most important thing and this is what is taught in cultural awareness trainings: how to do business internationally.

An aspect which we, at be-a-chameleon, take into consideration, is the individual taking the cultural awareness training (which we call Cultural Consciousness). Additionally to providing him/her with know how about how to adapt and communicate better across cultures, we look at how he/she perceives these changes and tools and how these affect him/her. In our training we make sure that you learn to adapt without changing who you are, we give you tools and know how, however before that we seek to understand how you perceive the world and what your values and beliefs are because we are aware that certain situations may bring you out of your comfort zone. So understanding what your comfort zone is, we can help you go beyond it and make sure that in your next intercultural experiences you will be more comfortable and confident.

We will be providing a Cultural Consciousness training mid-June 2013 in London, please feel free to contact us for further details at info@be-a-chameleon.com, and watch this space as we will post more information this month.

 

 

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Leaving your country to live abroad – provided by our guest blogger Ozchameleon

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More than three years ago I decided to leave Europe to go and have a career change by studying a Master degree in Australia! The initial plan was to study for a year and return to Europe after. As you can imagine, like many foreigners here, I fell in love with that country, the nature, the laid back environment (not always easy but learnt a lot) and the life I created for myself!

One has to admit, that my personal journey has not always been an easy one but it has enriched me with experience, resilience and many funny stories to tell!

Before the start of my journey, whilst still in Europe, I was quite organised for a change as this time, I read about the country I was going to (Australia), made research to find out more about the culture etc. This was important for me as I did travel a lot and loved discovering new places and cultures but this time, I knew I was going to live there for a while and was very curious of this foreign land on the other side of the world, Down Under!

As an anecdote, what stuck around until now was the interesting fact a document said about Aussies: apparently, Australians often make jokes about their friends and one should not get offended if they do it to you! To be honest, this is true! One should not take one´s self too seriously as life is beautiful and simple!

Adapting to the culture – Australian Lifestyle

My first intercultural shock was the Aussie accent! Being used to the American and British one, I was just having difficulties understanding them especially when they used slang! Since, I´ve adapted myself and find it shocking when going back to England as I´m not used to hearing that accent anymore.

The other shock as a French individual was the fashion in Australia! It is an easygoing country and people live a simple and practical life but ´oh God´, the French fashion police would stop them then and now me if they saw us/me that way… To draw the picture, being a city near the beach and being quite relaxed compared to European cities, you see men in suits wearing flip-flops or like they say here ´thongs´, and business women in a smart dress wearing sneakers!!! Let me tell you that now I don´t care anymore what people think as I discovered the comfort of wearing these shoes to go to work instead of those beautiful but now painful heels that get caught in the holes in the street or on escalators when going to take the train or in a shopping centre!

Some French friends of mine can´t believe I´m actually doing that! How could I? As I tell them… power of adaptation 😉

Friendships in Australia

So I arrived in Australia and apart from the little shocks you cannot find in books, I decided to follow the lifestyle and move into a flatshare. It was an amazing experience as I met great people and managed to have a circle of friends, which since have evolved but this is life.

As such, I found the Australian culture in terms of friendship quite similar to the Americans. It is quite easy to speak to some of them but it takes a while until it actually becomes a friendship. Not knowing this, you could easily be deceived thinking you’ve established a great friendship but then at the end, you realise it took you actually two years to find out more about the individual who then starts to introduce you to their closer circle of friends and family. I must admit that the people I have encountered are in general very independent and live their life as they feel and keep it simple, which is a good balance and a cultural shock when you are not used to that but more to closer friendships.

To summarise, in order to adapt, I simply absorbed what I read, observed the human interaction in different settings to get my own understanding, analysed and replicated what felt aligned with my own self. It worked perfectly well and this is a process my family and I have gone through for as long as I have lived, which makes it pretty integrated and unconscious by now.

Other Culture shock  – at a funeral

A member of my Australian partner family unfortunately died unexpectedly. It was quite a tough experience for him in these particular circumstances.

The funeral was quickly organised and arranged by his aunts through a funeral service (all funerals are organised through here). The ceremony and cremation were done on that particular funeral home premises.

After the service, the shocking part of the story was that it was suggested by a member to go with who desired to an RSL Club (Returned and Services League); which is a place where you have a pub, a sitting area, some TVs to watch sports and a gaming room (casino and bingo room).

Coming from Europe where you usually go to church, then to a state or church cemetery and then go to a family members house or a restaurant for lunch, it was a shock to me! We did talk after the lunch with my partner and I told him about my perspective and what had shocked me. He seemed not to be that shocked as it was usual to do it the way it was done. He appreciated my concerns and did realise that indeed, different cultures and different families here in Australia did it differently but he realised that the family values and expression of emotions was quite different for him and most Australians.

For more information on any of the stories or any comments you would like to make about a similar or different experience, please feel free to leave a message J

Enjoy!

Yours,  Ozchameleon

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How to communicate effectively Online !

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Have you ever felt like you were spending time writing up an email, and when you received an answer from your counterpart a few days (if not weeks) later, you realized that what you asked for or expected was not understood ?

Well hopefully this article will help you understand online etiquette and how to communicate more effectively online. Please also feel free to share and comment if you have other tips to share with the community or if you have examples !

You can communicate online with different tools such as email, voice over IP, web conferencing and online platforms. In today´s world everything or almost everything is done via the web, we shop, we chat, we meet people, we train and we connect. There are however certain things that we need to keep in mind when we communicate online that are just as important as when we would communicate face-to-face.

Netiquette:

  • The netiquette states that when receiving an email, the response time should be no longer than 24 hours (especially if it is business related).
  • Be polite, clear, precise, straight to the point in your communication
  • Avoid using upper case writing as this would come across to the receiver of your email as SCREAMING !

Now this is the netiquette, we all know that some of these rules are followed and others are not, we cannot control when our counterpart will answer and if he answers late he surely has his/her reasons (lots of work, working on different projects, very busy). My advice would be that if you see that within a week you have not been answered your query send a gentle reminder email.

Emails

  • When we send emails we tend especially in the UK and the US to address them by using the first name of our counterpart. We have to be very careful as in certain cultures this could be perceived as very informal (for example France, Germany, Spain). Write your first email by using the last name of the person you are contacting. If you see that when the person writes you back using your first name, you can continue communicating on that basis.
  • Also good to know is that in certain cultures as for example Germany, titles are very important and are a sign of status so if the person you are writing to is a Professor or a Doctor, write Dear Pr. XXX or Dear Dr. XXX this will be highly valued.
  • Make sure that when you write your first email to a client you stay very formal, write short, precise and clear sentences, be clear in your message and what you offer, doing this will enable your client to better understand what it is you are selling or what it is you offer him/her.
  • Be patient with regards to answers, the netiquette says 24 hours however you may receive an answer days or weeks later, do not take it personally, just like you your client may be busy and have his reasons for not answering straight away.
  • When you receive an email, make sure you read it entirely and that you get the point of it, the person on the other side may get frustrated if you ask questions about what is already mentioned in his/her email, so dedicate all your attention to what is written in the mail.
  • If you then have further questions or need clarifications then write them clearly.
  • When you work in a big organisation, hierarchy may be very important, especially if you are on a big project so make sure to put your manager on CC (copy) so that if there is any problem he/she can step in.
  • If you are dealing with colleagues or clients from another culture make sure you use current vocabulary, so that they can understand what you are writing, avoid difficult words or phrases, keep it smart and simple, that is the best way to communicate effectively !

Building relationships:

Many cultures function with relationships, for example Latin America, the Middle East and Asia, so remember that it is not easy to build relationships via the web. Face-to-face connection in these cultures is important because your business partner will want to know you, what you do, and how you look like. A good tip would be to phone them or video conference with them to start building up a relationship. This is of course if your company has restricted travel budgets and you cannot meet your partner. Make sure that you keep in touch with them on a regular basis so that you can nurture the relationship.

Voice over IP and video conferencing:

Remember that English is spoken widely across the globe, however it is not necessarily the mother tongue or first language of your partner, so make sure you speak clearly, use simple words, make short sentences and get your point across as efficiently as possible. Also if you have any accents take them into account, speak slowly, articulate and avoid mumbling.

These are a few tips that could make a difference in the way you communicate, remember to be clear and precise, be patient, if you feel angry at something that has been written or said, bite your tongue or your fingers before answering as the rule number 1 is to stay polite and respectful to the person you are communicating with.

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What is being culturally aware ?

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Being culturally aware is the capacity to switch from one way of seeing the world to another.

It is the capability to understand what is going on around us in a business or team meeting, understanding that differences are there and that the way I see the world may be different from the way my counterpart may see it.

To become culturally aware there are three steps which we reflect in our new training which will come out in 2013 (Cultural Consciousness). The three steps are as follows:

1. Knowing who you are and where you come from

Knowing who you are, including your personality type and where you come from, i.e. your cultural background, is the first step to pinpointing the way you see the world. Once you understand what is important to you in terms of values and beliefs and what your biases are, hence what triggers you and what makes you react in a way that may compromise a business deal or team work, enables you to see past your biases and values because you are consciously aware that these are the points that may affect your behaviour.

2. Being open to differences

Being conscious of who you are and where you come from now gives you the opportunity to reflect on differences. How do people see the world? What is their perception of time, how do they communicate, what would trigger them to refuse to do business with me ? Throughout your business and personal life you will come across people from different walks of life that will see the world differently and the best thing to do when meeting these people is taking notes about what is different about them: what makes them tick, what are their preferences, what are their values and beliefs, how do they make business? This second step is very important as it will emphasize your ability to analyse what is happening around you and embrace differences.

3. Learn from those who are different

As mentioned in point 2, taking notes of differences that you come across can be a valuable exercise especially since it will give you the power to switch from one way of thinking/ seeing the world to another. You will feel more at ease in different situations and your stress and anxiety levels will drop significantly giving you the opportunity to work across cultures and communicate well with people from different cultures.

These three points are the important points we focus on in our training as being aware of who you are, others are different from you and embracing differences will be a long-term investment (training wise but also personally) as it will take you on a journey of self-reflection and self discovery.

Do feel free to contact us if you would like to find out more on our Cultural Consciousness training which will start beginning of 2013.

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The power of listening

Whether in personal life, at work or in a business setting, one cannot communicate unless one listens.

We think that listening is easy and that we do it everyday, indeed we do, but what is it that we register when we have a discussion with friends, partner, colleagues or potential clients ? Do we really understand what the person we have in front of us,on the phone or on a virtual conference is telling us?
There are many factors that can hinder active listening, these can be:  a noisy surrounding, a bad telephone or virtual line, multi-tasking (some may agree and others disagree), the language barrier, our personal bias toward the discussion, our personal preference and many more, I am sure you can come up with other distracting factors.

The biggest mistake we do when we communicate with others is that because they speak the same language we assume will understand each other ! unfortunately it is not always the case as we can speak the same language but if we speak with someone who´s native tongue is not the one used we may lose a vital point and that may lead into miscommunication or even conflict.

 
When we say we can be biased by our personal preferences it can be true. Have you ever been in a conversation with someone and focused so much on what you wanted to say and wanted to sell that you completely lost the message of your counterpart? This can be fatal in business, indeed what we want to achieve in business is good relationships and a contract. How do you want to have a contract if your customer thinks and feels that you do not listen to him and thus do not understand his needs ?

 
This happens also in teams, because there are many members, one has to be able to listen and get what every member has to say and how they want to proceed. If one member feels left out, the worst case scenario would be that he isolates him/herself and may create group noise. Such a distraction could be fatal to the productivity of your team.

So how can we improve our  listening skills ? how can we master the power of listening ?

First identify what your personal preferences are, if you like to talk a lot, work on developing your listening skills by reducing the amount of information you deliver, and open yourself to your counterpart. Ask questions that will help you understand his/ her needs better, practice active listening by reformulating what you have heard and making sure that you are on the same wave length.

 
Second, if you are speaking to a non native speaker, ask questions, reformulate your questions if you feel that you were not understood, repeat what you have heard, observe the body language (a smile may signal that you are on the right track). Indeed in certain cultures (mostly indirect cultures), half of the message will be transmitted through body language so it is important that you not only listen with your ears, but also with your eyes.

Lastly, you can practice at home with your partner or your friends, ask them for feedback, see if you have gotten their message, see if you understand what it is they want and if they have gotten their point across. This will enable you to be more in tune with your business partners (and team members) and make them feel understood and especially show them that you know what they need and can provide them with the product/ service that best suits them and their expectations.

 

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It´s the little things that make the difference !

Yesterday I met a young Irish banker in London from Credit Suisse.

He explained to me that he travelled a lot around Europe to meet his customers and then asked me what I did. I told him I was a cross-cultural consultant and that I helped business people and companies to understand cultural differences and enable to communicate more effectively across cultures.

He said he found that really interesting and relevant and suggested his bank have such trainings. He said they needed it because first of all, what he does is mainly customer service and that in the past he had lost many deals because of possibly not having understood his customer´s needs and culture ! He also emphasized that understanding a different culture would enable him to have a better connection with his customers and show them that it´s the little things that make the difference in their relationship.

I was very pleased as he was very aware that showing his customers that he understood how to communicate with them and knew a little about their culture could give him the opportunity to close a deal.

Another issue he raised was language, he said that here in the UK and Northern Ireland focus was only made on speaking English because it is the language that is spoken accross the world so why learn a new one?  He found that it was a little of a handicap as he would like to show his customers that he speaks a little of their language.

So the point here is indeed, cultural awareness is a plus when doing business internationally, knowing about your customer´s culture can open you doors and increase your success in business. And second, of course, learning a second or third language could be an advantage as a different connection (more intimate) would be built with your counterpart as language and culture shape the way we think. If we understand how our customer´s language is spoken and works we can connect with them and have successful business.

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Case Study: a Franco- German Wedding

This summer I was invited by one of my French friends to her wedding in France. She was getting married to a common friend who was German. The city hall and church wedding were held in both languages so that all guests could enjoy the wedding.

After the ceremonies, all guests gathered in a Chalet and the party was celebrated “French style”, hence an emphasis on food and wine. The dinner lasted for about 4 hours, around great food and wine. After the dinner, all gathered up on the dance floor to celebrate the couple´s union!

Now, I was interested in understanding how the German guests perceived the wedding and thus I went on a little expedition and asked a few questions to them, here are some of the remarks that came out:

  • The difference between a French and a German wedding is that in France, you prefer to sit at a table enjoying good food and wine, whilst having discussions with one another, whereas in Germany, we have a quick dinner and then we drink and dance until dawn.

 

  • Another interesting point that was raised about the French culture was that the French work to live, and the Germans live to work! So work is perceived as very important for Germans, it comes before everything else.

 

  • The French family, as opposed to the German family seems to be more united, family values and unity are very important, and when there is a celebration such as a wedding or even for Christmas, the family comes together; whereas in Germany it is slightly different, it stays within the nuclear family. Of course we celebrate with the grandparents and aunts/uncles, but the occasions are rarer.

By the end of the evening it seemed clear that both cultures are neighbours, but their way of living life and celebrating is different. This case study is food for thought: think about your friends or neighbours from other countries, and try to see whether your perspectives on life are the same, and if not, why is it different and how can you find a common ground?

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