A Coaching Power Tool Created by Kalaivani Mattern
(Cross-Cultural Coach, INDIA)
I. Here = Home?
The word ‘Home’ evokes the sense of comfort, safety, and a warm, fuzzy feeling. Some times ‘Home’ is here where we are right now, some times ‘Home’ is where we want to be. Some times home is a solid building we can touch and some times it is a feeling or a memory.
Whether we define ‘home’ as a place or a state of mind, we are at equilibrium at home – it is a sense of balance and familiarity, and we are confident in those surroundings. When the going gets tough, we would all like to go back home to recoup.
But what if we do not feel at home at the place we live?
When we are displaced geographically/culturally whether by choice or by circumstance, it could be disconcerting -the equilibrium gets disturbed.
This dissonance might also affect personal life, career performance and/or hinder crucial decision-making capabilities – for some people a lot more than for others, but a strain is felt by even the most global savvy among us.
II. My clients
Executives who choose an expat assignment are fully-aware that they are going to work in a new place and they almost always get some amount of cultural training for their host country and yet, there are times where frustration becomes the order of the day and daily life becomes chaotic and seems to be only full of fire-fighting.
In this power tool, I assume that my clients chose coaching to tackle this disharmony. They might not be aware of all aspects of what creates this disharmony in their life, they might not even be aware of it as dissonance in the first place, but they can sense that some thing has to change.
III. Role of my power tool
This power tool is aimed at my clients working out a plan to regain equilibrium in their daily life- where Home and Here are as close to each other as possible, if not, indistinguishable.
The first part is an exercise to see what the client sees as ‘home’ as opposed to ‘away’, the next part is to see how to arrive at an even keel and carry that sense of equilibrium wherever they go.
Although I use the word ‘home’ it does not necessarily involve a fixed place in space, it is more the inner ‘home’ which remains the same at workplace or in the living room.
IV. The ‘Here and Home’ exercise
1. On a scale from 1-10, where are my clients with the feeling “At home”? (“Not at all” =1, “Completely at home”=10)
2. Table to fill out with words they associate with ‘Home’ and words they associate with the ‘Here’ (their current place of residence)
Now to explore what can be moved from ‘Home’ to ‘Here’ so that the current place of residence can be ‘Home’.
This stage might also involve discussions on core values which might be getting affected in the new culture and the original purpose behind their current assignment/job.
3. What would they like to add to the ‘Here’ column?
4. What would they like to subtract from the ‘Here’ column?
5. What were some of the expectations of ‘Here’ before they came here?
6. On a scale of 1-10, how well has the original purpose of the assignment been met/is progressing? (“Not at all”=1, “Has been met completely/is progressing very well”=10)
The above exercise and the time for reflection would form the basis of changes the client would like to undertake. This would help my client not only recognise but feel the underlying reason(s) for the dissonance.
As coaching is about turning awareness in to a tangible plan of action, this would form the next phase of the power tool.
How can my clients influence or counteract some of the negative aspects of their current environment?
At an ICF webinar on cultural competency by Harriet Cannon, I heard the word ‘cultural refuelling’ (my blog post). It was a powerful idea and I would like to bring in at this stage.
Cultural refuelling is setting time aside to connect with one’s roots, values and beliefs- it could be a simple routine as a regular dining-out of your home cuisine, keeping in touch with your religious beliefs or a regular community activity.
I see ‘cultural refuelling’ not necessarily as just having a few familiar comforts but more as taking the timeto see what makes one feel good and energised.
It might be difficult for a client to reach out in these matters as they might see these as either trivial or irrelevant, so it could be part of the coaching conversation.
i) Supportive network:
- What do they think of cultural refuelling? Would it be something they would consider?
- If yes, what are a few things they can do to set aside time for ‘cultural refuelling’ (be it at work or with their family?)
- How would they like to be best supported by their family/corporate/colleagues in this?
- How will they approach this topic with their family/corporate/colleagues?
- What kind of structures do they have/or would put in place to help them?
ii) Celebration of Here and Now:
- What are a few positive things that they have “here” right now?
- Which activities, that help them relax and feel energised, are readily available in the current environment?
- How regularly can they participate in such activities?
- How about things that are available only “here” which they couldn’t have anywhere else?
(Also explore options about hobbies that they would like to pursue/try but could not because of unavailability of resources till now)
In another one of ICF webinars, Dr. Geoffery Abbott mentioned how taking time to reflect would help many executives thrive in complex business environments – “surf” along, instead of “drown” in these complexities.
Taking time to reflect on what “here” and “home” mean for oneself could help working and living in/with a different culture (a complex environment), more positive and less stressful.
Turning the focus from what is not working in the current environment to what is positive and advantageous, could help clients move ahead and feel at ease in their new “home”.
They would be able to see the “circle of influence” they do have and feel empowered to take the steps necessary to gain equilibrium.
Global Relocation Survey by Brookfield Global Relocation Services
“The Culture Map” by Erin Meyer
“A Portable Identity: A Woman’s Guide to Maintaining a Sense of Self While Moving Overseas” by R. Debra Bryson
“Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen Covey
(The name has been changed in this case study as the client would like to remain anonymous)
Laura is an established young woman in her late 20s. She has been working for the French cultural department for years and in that course of time, has gathered experience organising and managing various cultural events in France, Switzerland and in Canada. When she was offered a deputy-director job in India, she felt it was a well-deserved promotion.
She moved to India with hopes of revitalising the interest in french cultural scene but soon came to realise that it is more work than she believed in the beginning. She was offered the job of the Director immediately after her arrival as that position could not be occupied, but she had no deputy! She had to make all the decisions and plans; make sure the plans get implemented and be accounted for them, too.
She was soon regretting the decision to move to India and was thinking of asking for a another job back in Europe or Canada. But the fighter that she is, she did not want to just give up but wanted to seek coaching before she made a final decision.
In our very first meeting, she told me she just wants to survive India till a particular deadline and then decide whether she stays or moves back.
We started with the exercise from Section I.
Home: ordered, leisurely, going out in the evening with friends, having Saturdays free
Here : chaotic, overworked, staying till late at work and then going to bed exhausted, having to work through weekends
Reflecting on these words she has written, we discussed her work contract hours and her stress levels. We explored what her expectations were before she came here. We also spoke about how she feels about chaos and her belief in having a orderly day.
We divided the reflections and explorations into two parts:
- things that are within her control to change (emails that can be re-routed to an assistant),
- things that are outside her control (Saturdays as working days in India)
This led Laura to come up with a few ideas on how to lessen her workload by adapting to the Indian culture and seeking out new collaborators outside the embassy and cultural circles. She was able to put a few structures in place to help her create more order within her “circle of influence.”
She also tried to find ways to free up time that allowed her to rest and rejuvenate. Laura listed all the activities that helped her manage her stress-levels back ‘home’.
Some of them were not possible here at all (skiing) or were limited (water-sports/cycling) but what she did have here are yoga and spa which were much more affordable than back home. She signed up for yoga classes and scheduled massages in the evenings.
She also started scheduling her lunch-breaks to meet up with friends so that she does not miss out on the socialising (which back home was usually during the evenings) as in India going out with colleagues for a drink in the evening is not the norm, especially, if you are female.
Here and Home will never be equal for Laura but this exercise helped her to move away from the negatives which felt overwhelming to positives that helps her enjoy her stint here in India.
(The name has been changed in this case study as the person is not a client and wanted to remain anonymous)
John is an experienced, well-travelled senior management executive. The next logical move in his career path was an Expat assignment. Since he did a 6-month project in India during his university days, he chose India as his host country. John knew that working in India is not easy and that he will have to have extensive cultural training in this area, which he was provided with.
John’s assignment was to improve sales in India and push his company to number 1 in their field of products and services. Even though John was an experienced manager, he found it difficult to negotiate with his Indian partners as his field of direct influence was limited owing to the contracts in place between his company’s entities in home and host country .
John was frustrated and felt under tremendous pressure to keep both home and host country colleagues happy. It affected his creative thinking processes as he was constantly fire-fighting instead of innovating. It also affected his home life. He was working 12-hours a day and was not sleeping well either.
When John came to me as a friend, I asked him if he would be willing be a play the ‘Here and Home’ game. He agreed to it and this is what he wrote down
Home: freedom, less bureaucracy, independent colleagues, home cuisine
Here : restrictive, layers of bureaucracy, having to make all decisions alone
I asked him if he could think of anything positive he could see in the ‘Here’. He said yes, the only positive thing is he has built closer relationship with his Indian partners and clients which he too has come to value.
We started our exploration there.
His relationship with his Indian partners and clients have given him some insight into how they view contract negotiations. I asked him if these contracts, that are set by his home country, fall under his ‘circle of influence’?
This led him to wonder whether these contracts are themselves a weak point: what works at home need not work the same way ‘here’ and ‘here’ might need a different strategy completely.
It is not that this was not clear to others that were here before him, but changes in established and reputed companies come very slowly and most employees do not think it is their job to initiate that change.
For John this was an awareness he could work with. It put him immediately back on the ‘action’ mode instead of feeling helpless. He came up with a plan to present this to his bosses back home at a convenient time.
Till now, he has worked with the perspective that he just has to put up with the cultural differences, but now he gained the awareness that he could influence the process, not by trying to force the existing contract onto ‘here’ and getting frustrated but by changing the contract back ‘home’ to suit ‘here’.
We also explored the other negatives on the ‘here’ list. He is used to a different power hierarchy, so his employees waiting on his approval for every little action, however accepting he was of this culture, chafed at him. He thought he was being accommodating but after the exercise he realised he was being judgemental and is equating that behaviour to incompetence.
He decided to put guidelines in place where his employees feel confident about making their own decisions and will be rewarded for this, thus encouraging them to be independent, at the same time not go against their expectation of leadership.
Celebration and acknowledgement did not play a role in John’s executive life till now, so that was new territory for him to explore. He spoke about a few activities that gave him pleasure back home which he could not pursue here at all.
He especially seem to miss the cuisine of his home country but since he liked cooking and always have been meaning to try out baking, he took up baking along with his children as a regular activity which helped him connect with his family.
He used to skip breakfast and work through the early mornings, also because his ‘normal’ breakfast was not available ‘here’. When he wrote down that as part of the dish that he missed, he came to realise that this skipping breakfast and working through that time is not a productive behaviour. He set aside time, if not for a full breakfast, a bite to eat. That gives him time to read the newspaper and relax before starting the day.
All these small changes he made where within his purvey. Although not completely free of pressure, he feels he has gained some control over his life which felt chaotic just a few months ago. He was able to also bring in more creative solutions to the table as he felt positively energised. His perspective shifted from ‘helpless’ to ‘witness’ in some cases, and ‘active catalyst’ in others.