Cross cultural training – why it’s so necessary for new expatriate assignees

But they speak English too – why do I need cross cultural training?

When ‘Janine’ stepped into a new leadership role in Sydney, she was feeling enthusiastic, ambitious and impatient to deliver results for her American head office. But Janine hadn’t received cross cultural training. What she hadn’t anticipated was that her assertive, outspoken style and ‘whatever it takes’ approach would be seen as pushy and abrasive by her Australian team, who were used to a more laid-back approach.

English speaking countries

America and Australia are on the surface so similar, but scratch the surface and there are many differences. Despite a notionally flat management structure, there is an underlying hierarchy in America which is evident in the use of titles, qualifications and forms of address. The autonomy and independence enjoyed in Australia is more unusual in America and the casual, often jokey references to sexual orientation, race and religion which are lightly bandied about in the Australian workplace often shock employees from the more litigious USA. Similarly, the enthusiastic self-promotion and the determined focus on quarterly results and signing up the next customer, is often felt to be too transactional by the relationship oriented and more laid-back Australians, where small talk is an important element of any meeting and “catching up for a coffee” is seen as a great way to build relationships.

Likewise, despite its appearance as a very Anglo society – or indeed perhaps because of the expectation that Australia is just another English county, but with more sunshine – expatriates from the UK can also struggle to feel at home here. They don’t expect Australia to be so different; for people to be quite so direct, for social codes to be quite so relaxed, for Australians to be quite so hard to make friends with and for the “no worries” culture to be quite so pervasive. The simple phrase “we should have a beer sometime” is a good example of the different approaches. In America the invitation will be offered readily and expected to be taken up; in Australia the phrase is offered constantly and rarely expected to be taken seriously and in Britain it is not used at all until it is certain that having a beer would be a good idea for all concerned!

Non-English speaking countries

When moving from an English speaking country to China or Russia, people expect life to be difficult. They mentally prepare for challenges in the workplace and for issues on the home front, and if and when problems do arise, they are not any easier but at least they are ready for them. Moving to another English speaking country in many ways lulls people into a fall sense of security; they confuse language with culture and imagine that because they use the same words, the meaning conveyed will be the same too. Cross cultural training teaches effective communication is about so much more than words and learning to read between the lines is an essential skill if expatriates are to succeed.

What guarantees a successful expatriate assignment?

Expatriating is a huge time of upheaval for the employee and his or her family and the current failure rate of expats – failure as in early termination or failure to fulfill expected outcomes – hovers at about 40%. Cross cultural training can’t deliver a completely stress free move, but it can provide a massive advantage and create an expatriate who knows the rules of the game, whose family is supported and whose assignment is three times more likely to be a success. Contact us for any questions you have on cross cultural and expatriate training.


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About the Author

Patti McCarthy

Patti McCarthy

Patti McCarthy is an expatriate & life coach who helps migrants and expatriates to not just survive the experience but actively enjoy it. For further information please visit www.culturalchemistry.com.au.

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