A little intercultural perspective goes a long way

Adapting to a new culture can be even more challenging when you feel unsure of how to interact with locals. Sound familiar? If so, intercultural coaching can prove effective in coaxing you out of your shell.

Clumsy encounters

Ever have a clumsy cross-cultural encounter as an expat? You might have come away feeling foolish, or humiliated, an emotional state that will only make you even more unsure of how to interact with locals. If you were already feeling isolated, you might also be at risk of further retreating into yourself, which is the very opposite of what you’re trying to achieve.

Don’t blame yourself

“When we are left alone with our thoughts, there’s a risk we will overthink things, creating problems in our mind, or turning minor matters into major issues,” says Annika Harloff, a Berlin-based coach who lived in Singapore for many years. “You mustn’t blame yourself for being unfamiliar with the local culture. Instead, you need to take a step back and consider how you would do things a little differently next time.”

Another perspective

“When an interaction goes badly, there’s always a cultural context to understand. An expat, who has newly arrived in their host country, might simply wish to greet a local. If their greeting is not well-received, the expat might feel unwelcome. But wait – what actually just happened? As a coach, I would review the situation with the coachee. Perhaps there is another perspective for them to consider. I’d also ask them if they have observed how the locals greet each other in public settings. Then we can discuss some of these cultural differences and see how the expat can ‘tweak’ their approach in future.”

Follow your heart

Besides enhancing your cross-cultural communication skills, intercultural coaching can also help you identify ways to connect with the local community at a deeper level. “If one of your goals as an expat is to meet and befriend locals, you should consider your objectives and needs just as if you were searching for work. For example, an expat partner who can’t work in Singapore, might be interested in volunteering. So why not explore local charity missions/projects run by Singaporeans?” says Annika. “Working with an intercultural coach, or learning the language, can only do so much – eventually you have to dive into the culture! It might be daunting at first, but I guarantee you will be rewarded for your bravery.”

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