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Recently a long time personal friend came to me about a new business venture she was embarking on, and asked me to get on board with. While I am still out on whether or not I want to get involved in the project,I am impressed if not relieved to discover that finally someone is stripping away the facade of BS in workplace conversation to get to the heart of a successful work abroad model for sending the RIGHT candidate.   Having been in relocation forever, I have seen this first hand, and moved whole households back from Dubai, Germany Mexico and Brazil just as quickly as the family arrived there!

The book however, broadened my perspective on an age old topic for me. The accilmation of the human spirit into a world or culture they do not understand and the overall financial and social  impact this has on a company hosted in a foreign country.

While I knew that expats were well compensated by employers to take jobs out of the country, I did not realize the failure rate of the expectations of the employees or the return to homeland from such failed positions was as significant if not record in numbers. Each time this occurs, it costs the company irretrievable financial loss, and in truth credibility among local business people in the country of topic.

Expatriate assignments fail in record numbers of 75%! This costs employers billions. The average household move internationally is $20,000.00 USD, but when an employee is unhappy, this number doubles because the cost to bring it all home again is factored in. Add to this the time invested in hiring the employee, or moving the employee up in the food chain and increasing salaries as well as the investment into the family or travelling spouse, and you have a big problem on your hands, if you are the employer, or worse yet, the human resource recruiter who landed the employee.

So why is it, Americans have so much trouble acclimating?

We are not culturally diverse, nor are we conditioned or prepared to be as a society. We claim we are accepting, and all created equal, but in truth, that is on our terms in our country, under our rules. We are not, societally speaking a very accomodating society. Meaning, we cannot conduct ourselves appropriately with those in another culture easily because we have a false expectation of those social interactions conforming to us. We go through the world feeling superior. I have seen it from every walk of life and every socio0-economic background. When we travel as Americans into other countries, we are loud. brash, rude, offensive, and demanding. We forget the simple “please ” and “thank you” that we drill into our children from a young age, and we become entitled and this is offensive. we carry with us the same expecatations as though we were “home” not realizing that the nuances determine the difference, and we cannot stumble through our existence thinking we are so important that regardless of where we are in the world, it is our way or no way.

As employers in this country, we have limited what we can and cannot say, what we can and cannot ask, and what words and reference we can and cannot use in dialogue of the work place. With this in mind, it is impossible to get the heart of a conversation about moving an employee and his family to the right destination because we have no qualifying measures to appropriately gauge this. We can be sued for one misstep either way in the query, and do more damage than good in the bigger picture, because as a society we got so law-happy and vitriolic about how we communicate we stopped the articulation and left communication in the workplace to something just short of text language in its simplest form.

Moving to Mexico is not as simple as it looks. The understanding for the culture is key to the success of the term. It goes beyond the inconvenience of all stores closing and everyone gathering on Sundays in the plaza after mass….it goes beyond the simple changes in products and convenience of familiar brands found in grocery stores. It is understanding basic communication skills, nuances of the culture, what you say and don’t say, and how to react or act accordingly. It is understanding body language, and knowing that if you recieve an invitation to someone’s HOME you have reached the top rung in the respect ladder and never say ‘no” or decline because to do so is the greatest insult.

Companies don’t take the time to educate in diplomacy and manners. I think this gets missed. Having employees go into company’s in destination expecting to modify or make big changes that may not blend with the cultural standards……Or having a newly appointed team manager that might have used intimidation tactics to motivate his team, will fail miserably using these same tactics in a latin based country. An employee that works well in the homefeild advantage will not necessarily succeed in destination if his sense and sensibility are not well intact and his respect and understanding of the welcoming country is not part of his briefing.

If a ” Chicken in Your Lap” helps you navigate the successful placement of your employees in expatriation, get ON BOARD WITH IT!  I read through the program and did some history research on the authors and founders and must say that this is long overdue and worth the investment, considering what you have to lose if you don’t. Alot of money washed away on a failed expatriation attempt for the improvment of a company is a HUGE loss!

A true story: I was invited to a diplomat’s luncheon in Sacramento in the California State Capital. I cannot for the life of me remember the occassion or why I might have been invited. Hosted at the Governor’s Mansion (pre Schwartzenneger), I remember being very nervous and uptight about it all.  I thought based on my language skills I would be seated with a latin dignitary.  Instead, I found myself sitting with the Consulate General for Abu Dhabi. I was one of 12 local representatives with this dignitary and 3 of his staff.

Having travelled the world with my parents, and having the great lessons of cultural immersion, I knew to wait for the table host to lead the way thtough lunch. I did not pick up a fork until he did (30 plus years later, I can still feel the sting of the fork in my elbow for resting it on the dinner table, and I can hear the “thwap” of the butter knife against my skin because my father caught me slouching and swinging my legs incessantly). I did not reach for bread until he did. I did not even move my napkin to my lap until he did. I watched every sign and nuance, the body language, whether eye contact was made, did the fork rest or lie on the plate, etc. I watched as those around me, thought of none of these small details or nuances of behaviorisms,and before lunch was officially declared, these people consumed bread, slabbed butter all over their plates, and raised glasses to one another, ignoring the diplomat whom we were invited to host. I remember not knowing a single one of these people and knowing that I did not WANT to know them, because they embarrassed me. I felt sheepish, and foolish, going with those old fashioned manners my parents drilled into me, and I waited for the host to say something. Time ticked, mouths open and chewing, glasses draining, and my realization that being in business didn’t really mean you had perfunctory manners when consuming a meal. I waited for a word, a peep,a look  from the dignitary to one of his staff, or something to come of it, while I melted in further dismay and embarrassment, realizing for the first time, not everyone was raised as I was……The man never said a word, and never missed a beat. He never let on that he was offended or disgusted in any way.  He had couteous and polite conversation with everyone at the table, making small talk and smiling. He was not appalled nor did he seem insulted.  I was surprised, and still very embarrassed, not understanding why, considering I knew no one else at the table.

At the end of lunch, when the last plate was removed, and the coffee cups held the grounds at the bottom of the cup. and the luncheon adjourned; long after my table mates rushed back to their lives after their free luncheon, I began to gather my things, and to excuse myself from the table and the  conversation with the dignitary. As we were saying good bye, he stopped me, and touched me on the arm, and he said words to me I will never forget. He said ” I have enjoyed this time, with you immensley. You have impeccable manners and a beautiful and gracious manner about you, and I thank you for being my guest. You are welcome to me anytime. You have changed my perception of Americans”. 

These words and this experience resonated with me, and has been a apart of my wardrobe every day since. Seemingly stupid and insignificant to some, a HUGE moment for me in life.

I went straight back to the office and called my parents to say “thank you” for the manners and lessons.

The point is, not everyone is equipped with the lessons of true understanding and respect for cross culture. Just because it is OUR way, does not make it the right way, and if we do not have the whole conversation, and we do not get around our own feelings being hurt by having the honest workplace conversation, our employees will keep coming home having failed 75% of the time. We have a social obligation to teach our representation the fine art of communication, with respect, and candor, to endeavor to be a success no matter where we are in the world.