Let’s do a gedankenexeperiment: imagine you could be labeled according to your cultural background. Say a set of five basic indicators would suffice to characterize your people – and you. Like on a dashboard, five instruments would have a needle, and their deflections would represent your values and belief systems, and thus how you usually act and re-act under certain circumstances.

Picture we put you in a room with 20 people. The needle deflections on their dashboards are similar among themselves – but completely opposed to yours. Now imagine you are given the target to complete a complex task together.

How do you think this would work out?

What would be the impact if you knew the scores of the basic indicators of the others and yourself vs. not knowing them?

What would be the outcome if you were a team member?

What would you have to do as a team leader to make the project a success?

Merely a theoretical situation? Not at all! It is a reality for all of us who are working and living in a different country, and also for those who interact with foreigners in a business environment regularly.

And the 5 criteria indeed exist: Geert Hofstede (TM) has developed a beautiful concept called “cultural dimensions”. I recommend to look up the detailed explanation on the Itim homepage, but for those in a rush, I will try to give a very brief explanation extracting it down to just one sentence:

Power Distance Index (PDI)
indicates how the less powerful members of organizations or institutions accept the unequal distribution of power.

Individualism (IDV)
in individualist societies the ties between individuals are lose; in the opposite collectivist societies, individuals are highly integrated into groups

Masculinity (MAS)
typical masculine values are assertiveness and competiveness vs. feminine values e.g. being modest and caring

Uncertainty Avoidance Index (UAI)
a society’s tolerance for uncertainty and ambiguity; members of a society with a high UAI feel uncomfortable in unstructured situations, leading to strict rules and regulations.

Long-Term Orientation (LTO)
In long term oriented societies, people value actions and attitudes that affect the future: persistence/perseverance, thrift, and shame, whereas in short term oriented societies, people value actions and attitudes that are affected by the past or the present: normative statements, immediate stability, protecting one’s own face, respect for tradition, and reciprocation of greetings, favors, and gifts. (I understand this is related to the teachings of Confucius)

What score do you give yourself in each indicator? Do you know the ratings of the people you deal with?

Yes? That’s a great start! Identify similarities and differences. Focus on the gaps, and be aware of the consequences. Now you are already in a good starting position to master the inevitable intercultural challenges. Congratulations!

No? Hmmmm… You better work on this – or prepare yourself for tough times.

Very helpful: Hofstede graphs with the scores of the cultural dimensions for almost all countries on the Itim homepage! http://www.geert-hofstede.com

This it what it looks like for my wonderful host country:

Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions for Thailand

Prof. Hofstede offers a useful tool to compare a foreign country with your home country.

It’s not only very useful, but also fun.

I did it for myself, have a look: 

Oh boy, seems that relocating has turned my world of beliefs upside down within a 12 hours flight: four out of five indicators completely opposite! Can you imagine that working in Thailand

has its challenges for me? And, yes, I also pity the Thai people forced to work with me…

Do it for yourself and get yourself some food for thought .

Six Quick Tips to overcome intercultural challenges when working abroad:

  1. Be aware that cultural differences do exist.
  2. Learn more about this topic, e.g. by reading well known “cultural shock” books series
    For my fellow Germans in the Land of Smiles I recommend “Kulturschock Thailand”
  3. Attend a seminar that prepares you for your assignment abroad. Companies taking your expatriation and sustainability will cover the costs.
    I attended one at IFIM  in Germany which I can I highly recommend.
  4. Get an experienced mentor or personal coach to assist you in your individual situation
  5. Although cultural differences are a fact, avoid stereotyping and see how you and the people you are dealing with fit into these patterns, and where you deviate from it.
  6. Be patient, and don’t beat yourself up if things are not going right. Acknowledge that you are privileged to encounter such amazing experiences, and enjoy the adventure!

Have FUN and LIVE life to the fullest!

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Posted by: Dr. G | 27-March-2010

Welcome to the Land of Smiles!

As promised, today I add the second blog: Living and Working in Thailand. Personal stories and tips to overcome the challenges of living abroad in a completely different cultural environment. Highly biased by my own journey (which is now entering its seventh year already!), but hopefully useful for you. Your feedback will be highly appreciated. Here we go:

I love Thailand!

I love the people!

Thai people are generally friendly, considerate, and widely known for their incomparable hospitality. In my view, Buddhism has a very positive impact on life in this country, and there’s a lot you can learn from Thai people about being happy without necessary being wealthy. And people are not too strict with rules, but rather flexible which makes life easier in many areas and more relaxed.

I love the diversity!

Especially in the metropolis of Bangkok you will find millions of people from all ways of life. Nowhere else have I experienced such a melting pot of nationalities and different cultures –  and at the same time encountered such a high level of tolerance.

I love the climate!

I simply like it warm. I enjoy the sun shining almost every day, and I don’t mind the rainy days. People told me I will miss the season change, but so far, this has not been the case, and I’d be surprised if it ever will be.

Is this paradise?

No.

There is good and bad everywhere. Everything comes at a price, and for instance the things that you may appreciate in your free-time might give you hard times at work. And generally, being a foreigner in a country that is so completely different from your home country is definitely not easy at all times. In Thailand, I have experienced the highest highs and the lowest lows in my life.

This blog deals with the difficulties you may encounter at work and in your private life while abroad. And I wish to assist you in finding ways to overcome the difficulties and live life to the fullest in a wonderful country.

Chok dii khrap!

Posted by: Dr. G | 13-March-2010

Life Is a Journey! Where Do You Want to Go…?

When I was a child, terms like finding purpose in life, self development, or fulfillment were not as popular as they are today. My parents grew up in the atrocities of world war II, and I assume their lives were shaped by needs for survival rather than spending their time thinking about fulfillment.

Look at all the books, seminars and self-proclaimed “motivators” that have emerged over say the last two decades: do you think the search for destiny is just a temporary fashion of modern society?

Personally, I am convinced that taking control of your life and following your way is THE key for improving the quality of your life, living a happier life, and ultimately fulfillment.

And in theory it’s quite simple. Life is nothing but a journey.

Have you ever gone on a looong trip? Whether you were traveling by car, plane, bicycle, or just walk, first of all you would decide where you wanted to go, wouldn’t you? Seldom would you just pack your things and walk out the door without any plan.

If you don’t know where you want to go, then you’ll end up like Alice in Wonderland asking the cat:  “would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”

The Cat: That depends a good deal on where you want to get to

Alice: I don’t much care where.

The Cat: Then it doesn’t much matter which way you go.

Does that tell you anything?

If you want to take control of your life, you’d better know where you want to go. Otherwise you will follow where other people want you to go, or where “the circumstances” lead you. Would you like that? I surely wouldn’t.

The next thing you would do is to identify way-points you don’t want to miss on your trip: major cities, sights, places where friends live etc.

From there, you would break down your long trip into smaller etappes which are realistically achievable each day. Every evening, you would check how far you had come compared to your plan. If something held you up, you may have to get up earlier the next day to catch up with the plan. Or you could take it easy, if you got farther than expected because maybe there was not much traffic on the road.

You would also reconsider if your planning was realistic, and you would adjust your plan from time to time. And of course you would make sure you get enough rest.

Most of all, reaching the destination would not be the only thing on your mind. You’d make sure to be enjoying the trip all along the way.

It’s actually quite simple to apply all this to improve your quality in life, to take control, and live a happier life:

  1. Define where you want to go, your destination, your purpose in life.
  2. Write down milestones; what you need to do in what time, where you want/need to be when.
  3. Break it down into daily, weekly, or monthly targets. Monitor this closely,  and adjust yourself accordingly.
  4. Remain flexible. If anything (or anyone) gets in your way, find alternative routes.
  5. Don’t get obsessed with it. Don’t beat yourself up if things are not progressing at your desired speed.
    Take rests regularly and most of all, open your eyes to enjoy all the beauty along your way.

Oh, from time to may want to reassure yourself that the destination is truly yours 😉

Have an exciting journey and share your experience with me!

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