Two Dangerous Beliefs That Will Make You Less Adaptable

Interestingly, the fact that someone is highly successful in their country of origin often does not mean that he or she will do well in a foreign environment.

A manager who is very well respected by his or her Dutch peers for having a very down-to-earth, and trusting leadership style may find that upon moving to Latin America, his subordinates do not take him seriously at all. Despite that fact that he had the best intentions – to put faith in his employees and empower them to solve problems on their own – subordinates in the new country perceive the same attribute as incompetence. Why isn’t the manager capable to solve any of the problems that are arising? Why isn’t he willing to make any clear decisions?

The best intentions and skill in operating in the country of your origin are not enough to make you successful in a new country. What we need in addition to the common qualities of successful people is adaptability. It allows us to let go of old patterns of behaviour and beliefs that hinder us to act effectively in an environment that has different standards in the areas in which we are trying to.

That’s why – lets now have a look at 5 beliefs that will have to get rid off in order become more adaptable.

When I adjust my behaviour, I am not true to who I really am

There is nothing inherently wrong with this belief. Authenticity is extremely important for us to remain a sense of inner peace, and also for others to feel like we are trustworthy. Luckily, you don’t need to act in a way that is against your personal values and beliefs in order to be able to adapt your behaviour to the local environment that you are moving into.

Let’s get back to the example of the Dutch manager who is trying to establish a positive relationship with subordinates. His behavior is likely to come from these beliefs:

  1. Everybody is equal, therefore my employees have as much right to make decisions as I do
  2. I should empower my employees to take responsibility themselves, because that will increase their productivity and satisfaction on the job. Science has proven this.

Given that situation, and the fact that his employees perceive a manager who doesn’t make decisions and empowers them to be weak, how could you possibly adjust your behaviour in a way that suits both perspectives?

Often, there are several options one can take in order to do so.

  • Adjust your behaviour within the framework of your own values and beliefs, but in a way that fits with the expectations of the employees
  • Reframe your beliefs in a way that they are still congruent with your values, but at the same time go in accordance with the expectations of the local people
  • Show your colleagues that your behaviour can actually be seen in a positive way within their own cultural framework

To me, the most important value in this situation seems to be ‘equality’. Therefore, as long as we can act in a way that feels like we are still providing equality for our employees, we will be happy. For the employees, however, the most important value is probably ‘respect’. They want to show respect to their manager by leaving the important decisions to him or her, and they want to see that he or she is a respectable and dependable person by making these decisions.

What you can do then is to propose a solution where when employees face a situation in which a decision should be made, they first sit down on their own and think through the problem. They then come should come up with as many viable solutions as possible, and make a recommendation for what they believe to be the most logical solution. They should then come to you and present what they have done – and you make the decision.

With that, you have empowered them to come up with a solution and to make a recommendation for what they believe to be the right solution. In most cases, you will then simply follow their recommendation, unless you believe it to be not optimal. That way, both sides are able act according their values. Plus, you have brought some positive changes into the organization, since you are preparing your employees for a situation in which they might have to take over your position in the future.

In my country, everything is so much more X [insert some positive attribute], therefore, we should do it this way.

For example, one belief I have noticed among many Germans is this: in my country, meetings are so much more efficient, therefore we should organize them our way.

Indeed, meetings in Germany are probably among the most efficient meetings in the world. People sit down at the arranged time, look at the agenda, follow it step by step, finished. Not much small talk. Not much beating around the bush. Just getting it done.

For a German working in Indonesia, their experience might be a real shock. First of all, the meeting starts an hour late. Then, everybody starts talking about unrelated topics, perhaps making some jokes here and there. Next, everybody starts jumping from one topic to the other. And uncomfortable topics are often avoided.

Yes, probably most people agree that the German meeting is more efficient. But does that really make it ‘better’?

It depends from which standard you are judging it. What your values and beliefs are. If your most important value is to build relationships, then probably the Indonesian meeting would win the battle. People in Indonesia really do take time to make sure that there is a harmonious relationship between all team members, and that a real sense of community develops between everybody.

If you keep judging the behaviour of people from different cultures based on your own values and beliefs, then there is no wonder that you will maintain this feeling of superiority that you have established. Take your time, immerse yourself in the local culture, and learn what is important to ‘them’. Only then can you truly judge which behaviour suits which situation best.


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