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How to Turn Your Multicultural Background into a Competitive Advantage

By Eduardo Delfino  May 9, 2016

travelling man fixed

People moving into a new country usually undergo the stress to deal with an entirely new cultural environment, which may go far beyond language difficulties, and include behavioral, cultural and religious differences—among others—making a transition much more complex that we can initially expect.

Let’s start by saying that people moving from a country to another have been brave enough to leave behind a substantial part of their lives for a purpose or dream, and that this goal-oriented mindset is usually the nurturing fuel these individuals leverage to deal with the difficulties ahead. If we want to ensure a successful transition, something has to be done and done quickly, since this new scenario in many cases may not be “patient and understanding” enough to a newcomer. This pressure leads to the generation of additional stress for people who already have a significant burden on their shoulders.

I can still feel the pressure I had over me when about 10 years ago I decided to leave my country, and those expectations were not necessarily set by others, but by my own willingness to prove I was capable to succeed abroad. Failure was not an option, and although this pressure fueled me with an incredible boost of energy to work long hours and face the difficulties of the adaption process, it left me with very little room for exploration and integration. I was making my best to create a good impression and be accepted by others—both professionally and personally—but I still felt disconnected from people and frustrated with my outcomes. I was navigating far away my comfort zone and I was not equipped with a toolkit to deal with a situation like this … That first year was hard indeed.

We should also address the lack of our personal “core team” when going abroad—close family relatives, friends and trusted people— but at this point let’s focus on the most immediate reactions. It is clear that if we pursue similar behaviors/strategies to those applied back home, the results might not be desirable. Similarly, and as a personal lesson learned, we should not fall in the temptation to immediately start “mimicking” the expected behavior from the locals and disregard our values, culture and beliefs brought from our place of origin, making efforts to look “normal” and “acceptable” to others. If we take this path, we may have some positive results in the very short term, but it may also lead to frustrating and disappointing outcomes through the generation of a hybrid behavior where you “don’t belong here, but don’t belong there either” (e.g., accent, dress code, cultural expectations, etc.). If this is true, what could be the ideal mix?

Charles Darwin said, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change”. This quote brings an insightful perspective, although we are not necessarily talking about “survival” here, but “success” in whatever purpose we had when moving abroad. We definitely need to adapt to change, but would it be possible to adapt without forgetting who we were before coming here, and—going one step further—is there a way that we could become even more competitive by incorporating our uniqueness into the mix?

Good news is that the working environment has significantly changed recently, and this trend has deepened over the 21st century. As our society becomes more global, corporations and institutions have an increasing need to count with distinctive and more diverse people. The old way of doing business is not an option any longer, reason why new and more creative approaches to deal and manage complex situations are required, especially when addressing multicultural customers, competitors and/or partnerships. Since this cannot be solved with a “local mindset,” it brings more opportunities for people capable to adapt quickly to new scenarios and embody a multicultural perspective seamlessly.

There is not a mathematical formula to be applied, but a few ideas to increase our possibilities of success in the new environment could be:

  1. Start by deeply understanding the reality and the rules of the game of the new scenario, learning as much as possible about it.
  2. Maintain an open/two-sided communication with the people you interact with, showing interest to learn from them, but also willingness to share the way you see things, so you can avoid misunderstandings and set clear expectations.
  3. Once the common ground is set, introduce the pieces of you that could add value to the specific needs of both your company and colleagues, generating excitement and willingness from people to learn more about your cultural background (e.g., success stories about similar situations, creative/alternative ways to address complex issues).
  4. You are there! You have been able to learn, adapt and bring the pieces of you that can make you distinctive, and this uniqueness is a differentiating factor that can be helpful not only to you, but also to all your stakeholders, increasing your impact and making your contributions more desirable.

It is not easy, but the results can be both fruitful and enjoyable and before you know it, you will be able to relate to others just the way you are, expanding who you are (not leaving it behind) and enhancing your possibilities of success at all levels.

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About the author:

Eduardo Delfino Eduardo Delfino is a 2014 CFT graduate at the NY Open Center. As an Executive & Life coach, Eduardo`s practice is focused on growth, empowerment and adaptability to change, helping clients to bring deeper levels of awareness and alignment to expand the view of what is actually possible (“see the unseen”) and achieve their most relevant goals. His previous experience includes +22 years of experience in several global positions at McKinsey & Company, where he developed, managed and led multiple cross-cultural and highly creative graphic design teams worldwide. For more information, go to www.sea-transformationalcoaching.com or email Eduardo directly.

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