December 15, 2009

Expat persona

Today I would like to share a great blog post that talks about how we take on an "expat persona" while living abroad -- even using a new name that better fits our "other" self. My expat persona name is Elizabeth, which is actually my first name, but not the name I had ever been called by friends and family back home.

Comments to the blog post below include:

"I find that “Ana” is really a facet of my very self–she’s always been there, but it took moving to the Czech Republic to find this “Ana” part of myself."

"I feel like I’ve become more of myself and discovered new depths to my character."

"I was given local names which didn’t stick, but recognize your concept of a persona custom-made for (and by) a particular culture or setting. Personality fracture is a definite issue when your context changes…such a strange, internal tension when important and vibrant parts of yourself are put into cold storage — but, as you showed, also a chance to let a new piece of yourself come forward."

"I like the idea that when you move to a new country and change your language, that your name changes too. It’s pronounced differently, shortened. Your new friends shape it to suit their language. There are people that complain when their name is pronounced differently. I like it when that happens. I have the feeling of reproducing myself. I like being many people.”

"….odd how a name change for local pronunciation convenience can actually take on meaning for us."

Can any of you relate to the comments above?

Click HERE for the link.

a domani,
E (e leez a bet)

November 27, 2009

Rituals with friends

Another Thanksgiving came and went. You gotta love the ritual of it all -- same turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, side dishes, pumpkin and apple pie all washed down with a glass of Novello.

The conversation went to another Thanksgiving and my subsequent blog entry about the democracy of pot luck. This year, Peter -- our host and turkey carver in the photo below -- had to take a back seat to the guests of honor. After many years, we were finally joined by the Italian restaurant owners who actually cook the beast! Our gratitude to their curiosity to prepare to perfection such an exotic dish!
So, here is the post again. Enjoy.

for Thanksgivings gone and those to come -- shared with expat friends.

November 26, 2009

Going home

Repatriation is today's topic. please find below a very honest, open and insigntful online discussion about repatriation after an assignment abroad. Pass this post along to your HR office!

Before starting, I would like to put out an invitation: I am gathering stories from expats on how the experience of living and working abroad has served to jumpstart significant personal and professional progress. Please contact me if you would be willing to share your thoughts (in a confidential way) for this project. The comments below may help you reflect.

The opening question for this discussion was: END OF EXPATRIATION: WHAT ABOUT YOUR "REACLIMATATION". Before leaving, companies often provide relocation service and sometimes cultural training to reduce the adaptation period but at the end of expatriation there is a new adaptation period. Does your company organise something and how do you manage your "reacclimatation ?

and here are a few responses (without names for privacy)

This is normally forgotten by companies. I suppose that it is supposed that you go back to your usual self: family, friends, sights, language and, this "reaclimatation" is an easy thing, and sometimes, it is not so.

Also, bear in mind, that many expatriations follow to a new expatriation so, this problem doesn't arise until a long time since you first left your home country. And when this happens, your past environment has completely disappeared.

When you are an expat and come home for a few weeks, every body wants to see you and you become really busy, with hardly time for yourself. When you are finally back, suddenly, all those feel that they don't need to rush to see you and you may find your self pretty much alone during some time, this can be hard, specially for a non working spouse, who normally is after returning from a long expatriation. Companies feel that they have done enough covering the cost of the move.

I would look at this problem from the other perspective. Once you leave the "home country" for an expat job, you are begining the new life somewhere else. As the time goes by, the "new country" its opportunities and problems, are closer than the ones of "home country". You are building new relationships, and parallely sort of a distance to all of "home country" issues. Looking from abroad and judging as an independent judge, rather than participant makes you confused in understanding where you belong. The longer the contract is the harder it is to come back. Consequently what happens is that many expats can't find their place in their "home country" and look for another jobs abroad.

HR teams do spend a lot of time and money to help a family move and adjust abroad. I actually don't know anyone who has received help during repatriation.

When people leave their home country and move to a new environment (new culture, new food, etc.) they end up finding out what they really are made of, and that will change them.

Like it or not -- in your home country you are defined by many things that have very little to do with who you are inside – what school you attend, what clothes you wear, what you do for a living, what music you listen to… When you move to a new country with new language and culture and ways of doing business – you have to make a decision. Do you walk into a McDonalds because you recognize the food or do you walk into a local restaurant where you don’t know the food and can’t speak the language?

Most expatriates choose the latter. And when that happens you start to change. You challenge yourself more and more.

You also seek support from people locally vs. from back home. Speaking for me -- I have found that the people back home couldn't empathize with what I was experiencing and didn’t understand that I was changing as a person. The local expatriates did. The local international school did and provided a lot of support too.

When my family moved back home we were different people. My husband and I had 3 children (plus dog and cat) – and we all were lost. There was a huge gap between who we are now and how our friends and family remembered us. And yes, Jose is right! Nobody rushed to see us!

We needed a welcome home party. We needed support to help all of us adjust. During the time we were away the world changed. Social media, mobile phones, TV shows, junk food, schools….even the church. We needed help reconnecting to our home country and starting over again. We had changed, our home country had changed.

It took a long time for our family to adjust. I have found that we now seek out new friends who are 'world focused' and more open minded. Many of our expatriate friends have moved back to their home countries too, and every single one of them have made major changes in their lives at home. New homes, redesigned homes, different schools for their kids, and many wanted a new job! Yes, the company that sent them abroad no longer kept their attention.

In my world, international consulting, very little is done to even help us adapt to the country we are going to, let alone help us adapt when we return. We each find our own coping mechanisms but one of the ways that has always helped me recover from a long posting abroad is to decompress in a neutral location before coming home. That way the denouement of returning home is not as strong and you have been able to process a lot of the emotion of leaving the country you worked in before going back to your old life. But the more international work you do, the more your old life needs to adjust to the new and improved you and vice versa. You must have the courage to make the changes you need to make.

I have just finished reading Robin Pascoe's book Homeward Bound and can highly recommend it for anyone repatriating. I have done so 3 times and it doesn't get easier through practice. The book made me realize that I'm not alone and also that it's not unusual for the readjustment to take years, not months as most would expect. Robin makes the point that living overseas changes you forever and most probably I will always feel something of an outsider. Not a pleasant thought, but perhaps a fair price to pay for all the wonderful experiences I've had living overseas.

Happy Thanksgiving!
a domani,
P.S. I added Robin Pascoe's book to my list to your right.

October 18, 2009

Looking for fortune

I am preparing a "CQ" (Cultural Quotient) column for the next issue of The Roman Forum magazine and I clicked on their website only to find an old travel article of mine on the front page!

So, if you live in Rome and are looking for a great day trip, CLICK HERE for an article on the town of Palestrina (and its goddess of fortune).

a domani,

October 15, 2009

Cultural Awareness in the Workplace

A photo from yesterday's presentation at the US embassy in Rome -- Survive to Thrive: Cultural Awareness in the Workplace. It was a mixed group of new arrivals, spouses, diplomats and embassy staff (even a few Italians) and everyone was quite engaged and surprised at how much they got out of the hour.

So, I am figuring out how to make and upload a recording so that I can share the text with all of you too. Anyone want to help me crack the podcast nut?

a domani,

October 8, 2009

Conditionally absolute

Berlusconi's lawyer is in the news for an interesting argument he slipped into his client's defense: "The law is equal for all, but not always its application."

The idea of rules and their particular application regularly comes up in cross-cultural communications. On one end of the spectrum lies "universalism" or the zero-tolerance concept of rules ( click here for a recent Time magazine article) in which there are certain absolutes that apply across the board, regardless of circumstances or the particular situation. What is right is always right and you should try to apply the same rules to everyone in like situations. To be fair is to treat everyone alike and not make exceptions for members of your "ingroup".

While life isn't necessarily fair, you can make it more fair by treating everyone the same.

Then there is the other end of the spectrum, "particularism", in which how you behave in a given situation depends on the circumstances, there are no absolutes. What is right in one situation may not be right in another. You treat your ingroup members the best you can and you let the rest of the world take care of itself (their ingroups will take care of them).

To be fair is to treat everyone as unique. No one expects life to be fair.

To each his own cultural orientation.

a domani,

PS. I used the descriptions of universalism and particularism from the book:Figuring Foreigners Out: A Practical Guide by Craig Storti.

October 7, 2009

More or less

Sorry I've been gone so long. Just got a bit too unplugged this summer. But I'm officially back with a good story and a question.

Last Friday my husband and I participated in a special anniversary event organized by the Italian Ferrovie dello Stato (national train company) to celebrate the 170 years of its first train from Naples to Portici. The participants met at the Rome termini, took the new superfast train to Naples followed by a short ride to the Pietrarsa train museum for a guided tour and dinner before returning to Rome.

The museum was fantastic, a little jewel overlooking the bay of Naples -- complete with a working steam-engine train! The dinner for 600 was catered in the one of the old padiglioni (warehouse spaces) among over 40 historic trains -- a sit-down affair with three glass and three fork settings around white-clothed tables of 12. The mandatory speeches by the autorità came before, lots of traditional music and dancing during and fireworks with a brindisi finished off the evening.

The organizer (and friend of my husband) was duly frazzled as she made sure that the various authorities and VIPS were properly seated at the first eight tables. She confided that about 100 confirmed people had not shown up and another 100 had come with same day confirmations (many of whom needed to be seated with their VIP peers). She simply shrugged, "At least the numbers balance out for the caterers" and after discretely and efficiently shifting places around, everyone had a proper seat. In the shuffle and in true Zelig style, we ended up filling out one of the reserved tables (but that is another story).

A memory bell went off from my event organizing days in Rome. Somehow back then I always magically hit my numbers for restaurants or caterers, but NEVER with the same people who had originally confirmed. 10-15% didn't show and another 10-15% just showed up. When I finally figured this out, I let go of all the worry and learned to count on the universe to take care of the final numbers.

and it always worked!

So why is it that the American organizations here in Rome keep driving themselves nuts by insisting on non-refundable reservations. How many times would I have just shown up at an event at the last minute to magically take the place of a last minute no-show. Things happen and then you are suddenly free to attend, or suddenly not.

How simple it all could be if we could reach an Italian comfort level with just letting things happen as they will.

a presto (I promise)

July 30, 2009

Intelligent people

I've had guests -- all four sisters together in Rome for the first time! I'm the oldest, but it was the third who instigated the trip. Although she suffered brain damage at birth, she continues to grow and develop and regularly surprise us all. At her annual assesment meeting she put forward her next goal -- to visit me in Italy with her sisters. So we made it happen.

Ok, she is missing some cognitive intelligence, but she sure made up for it in social and cultural intelligence -- enough to turn our heads and exchange smiles of amusement and admiration over and over again.

She gleaned social clues from the environment and interacted with others with fearless sincerity that led to amazing results. She learned key words (grazie, ciao and "il conto") and used them appropriately. She watched and mirrored greetings by always shaking hands and saying "ciao" (also during the taking leaving process). She bought items at a street market in Sabaudia without understanding a word but reading accurately the sign language of business. Shopkeepers and waiters responded to her presence with respectful service ("...forse la signora preferisce questo piatto...").

She was flexible with the new time schedule, open to new food and meal habits, willing to try anything, mindful of body language and not even disoriented by the strange language around her, and the strange toilets (no two alike).

So, we all have our strengths, some in the cognitive sphere, others in the emotional and social arena and some have a knack for crossing cultures with aplomb.

a domani,

June 25, 2009

Our brain, our culture

I googled (is this an official verb yet?) "self-directed neuroplasticity" today and ended up downloading a fascinating, enjoyable and easy to digest podcast interview on an Australian national radio podcast with a couple of leaders in the field: Jeff Schwartz and Norman Doidge.

Somewhere in the second half of the interview Norman Doidge talks about the applications of neuro-plasticity to the experience of changing into a new culture. While in the past, we tended to believe that our brain produced our culture (think of Geerte Hofstede's landmark book "Software of the Mind"-- a basic read for any course on intercultural communications), the new (non-mechanistic) paradigm allows for our culture to also reshape our brains (including our language, see my previous post below) in such a way that our perceptual systems are actually wired differently during our developmental years.

In this way, culture shock is really brain shock!

Anyway, if you are curious to understand more about how you work and how change works, download this into your ipod.


Over and over both scientists confirmed one of the basic premise of coaching methodology (although neither made any specific reference to coaching). By focusing our attention differently, we can actually change how our brain works, which in time can change how we see and interact with the world. The new framework is that our mind is not our brain (something those who practice meditation have known for centuries).

So we enact change in ourselves by increasing self-awareness around what we think (our mind), focusing our attention and then working with this attention over a sustained period of time -- and that is what coaching is about.

All very cool stuff.

a domani,

June 18, 2009

Could you repeat please?

A friend sent me a link to a scientific article on how people who speak different languages actually do think differently. Makes perfect sense to me and to anyone who has lived an extended period of time in another country and language.

It seems that the language you learn as a child trains you to pay more attention a particular set of things in the world so that you have the correct information to include in what you say.

We Americans, for example never learned to pay paticular attention to whether a chair is feminine or masculine -- and it shows when we occasionally slip up on the gender front, even after years and years of speaking Italian.

Russians instead do not have one word that covers all the shades that an English speaker would consider to fall under the word "blue". Instead they have two words --one for light blue (goluboy)and another for dark blue (siniy) which makes them quicker at distinguishing the two than their American counterparts.

To make her point that patterns in a language can indeed play a causal role in constructing how we think, she gives the example of a small Aboriginal community in Australia that talk about space in terms of north, south, east, west instead of left, right , forward so they might say, "Hey Joe, there is an ant on your southwest leg", or "Move the cup to the north northeast a little bit". Because space is such a fundamental domain of thought, differences in how these people think about space spill over into time, numbers, kinship relations and even emotions.

Another example was in the area of gender. In Spanish a key is feminine while in German it is masculine -- giving the object itself very different attributes in people's minds. The Spanish consider a key to be, "golden, intricate, little, lovely, shiny and tiny", whereas the Germans used adjectives such as, "hard, heavy, jagged, metal, serrated and useful" to describe the same item. Curious indeed!

Click HERE for the link if you would like to know more.

Perhaps Italians are so good at dealing with ambiguity because their language allows for endless sentences that never clearly nominate subjects and objects. "Who exactly is responsible for what" is the translator's daily struggle. The answer, as we have seen, is in the context, or as an Italian language teacher once told me, "musicality gives meaning."

Thanks Gillian for passing this along!

a domani,

May 30, 2009

Change is hard

I have been reading some theoretical work that links the brain (the physical organ) with the mind (the human consciousness that thinks, feels, acts and perceives) -- the very exciting work being done in neuroscience that tells us how people learn and change.

The reason we all resist change, even when we KNOW that the change is in our best interests, is that our brains work that way.

Our working memory -- the place where our perceptions and ideas can be compared to other information -- takes a lot of energy to do its task. When we meet something new (like we do when we need to adapt or change), this is where the information should go to be elaborated but sometimes there is just too much stuff already taking up its small space.

So instead of comparing, contasting the new thing with a repetoire of other information in our system and elaborate how to put it into action, we push it down into the basal ganglia area where there is more room and less energy required to run things. The problem is that this area of the brain is wired for routine, familiar activities that you can do without much conscious thought and the new thing gets put aside for our tried and true usual way of operating.

Another reason change is hard is that our brains are wired to read any difference between what is expected and what is actually happening to be an "error". These "errors" (anything new) produce intense bursts of neural firing that sets off our fear circuitry. In this way, any time we try to change a routine behavior, our brain sends out a strong message that "something is not right" and we feel discomfort that stems from fear. In this state, we do not do our best higher thinking but rather tend to react more emotionally and impulsively.

So, what can we do to make change happen?

Focusing attention on the improved result over a sustained period of time. Our working memory can only deal with small bites of learning, digesting it over time and by focusing attention, over and over new neuron circuity can be stabilized and developed.

The fancy word is: "self-directed neuroplasticity".

Apparently, the brain wants us to: focus on solutions, come up with our own answers and keep focused on our insights until new circuits are formed.

Sounds like coaching to me!

a domani,

March 19, 2009

The magic of comunication

I would like to share with you a lovely poem I have just received from a client. It speaks of empathy and deep listening that form a magical space of true communication.

We sit across from one another
and speak of trivial matters;
of the weather, of your heartbreak
of your new cobalt scarf.

I touch the threads of that scarf
to get closer to you.

Now, no one speaks
and there’s room for the truth
In the quiet, while I hold on to that thread,
our masks slip away
and the gods and goddesses can finally enter.

Three of them:
sit filling the empty spaces between us
and take their tea.

In this circle of gold the lines between us blur
and we speak of mystical matters;
of the weather, of your heartbreak
of your new cobalt scarf.

a domani,

March 16, 2009

Make it light

Many people hate the idea of promoting themselves. It smells of "sales" and we all hate those sales people that knock on our door or call us on the phone.

Yet we have to promote ourselves at some time -- even if we have a job, we might be aiming for a promotion.

I have done a reframe exercise for myself. When I knock on the doors of organizations, 'll just ask, "what one small thing could I do that would have the biggest impact for you?"

Its the 20/80 principle -- 20% of what you do creates 80% of the result. It just takes identifying the 20%.

I'll bet they may have some good ideas.

a domani,

March 11, 2009

Stream of consciousness

I participate in a number of forum discussions through the social network "linked in" and find it annoying that many forum posts ask questions or propose discussions with the underlying (often blatant) agenda of eventually selling you something -- not a great way to build relationships among colleagues.

In any case, the discussion generally runs along with short interventions by each player.

Not on the Italian Coaching Forum!
The last discussion opened with a question about the distinction between a manager and a leader -- and boy did those responses come through!

A certain Giovanni left a one paragraph response of 497 words.
Then Fabio intervened with his thoughts that spanned another single paragraph of 467 words. The last one came in from Giuseppe at 427 words -- one paragraph. (and you know my cross-cultural moments with regards to paragraphs, see HERE).

Whew. Who can wade through these philosophical meanderings!

But at least there is no underlying agenda "sell,sell,sell" -- theirs is the sheer enjoyment of free-flowing expression.

Odd that they were all men -- must be that the women were too busy with their double duties.

a domani,

Creating reality

While down under with the flu, I read Amy Tan's "Saving Fish from Drowning". It is not a book with any pretensions of deep meaning, but I thoroughly enjoyed the bumbling adventures of a group of American tourists in Burma / Myanmar.

At one point they are kidnapped by a group of rebels -- although they don't know that they have been kidnapped -- and brought to a camp hidden in the jungle. They believe instead that they have been taken somewhere very special to experience real local people and traditions for a "Christmas surprise" (it is December 25th). Then they believe that the rope bridge has fallen down and that is why they are stuck in the jungle.

They have no idea what is happening, can't understand the language except through the rebel leader's confused translations into English, and have to somehow figure something out.

So, they create their reality -- just like we all do every day -- they gleen clues from the environment and construct their story. They choose which clues to observe, while ignoring some other important ones, and build a story that is so fanciful to be farcical.

They are tourist in a strange land, they are are open to new experiences, want to learn about these people and have suspended all their usual radar that would have been useful to sort out a better version of what was happening.

They no longer have a recognizable frame of reference on which to build their stories, so they also build a frame -- who these people are, how their society works, what they are saying.

It gets quite funny.

The tribe also has built a story -- that the young boy in the group is the savior they have been waiting for who will make them invisible to their enemies. The clues are there, he makes things disappear (by performing card tricks) and carries a black book with the title "Misery" and with the word "King" (actually the novel by Stephen King).

But somehow their stories come true!
The group focused on the positive aspects of their stay and, in the end, they come to no harm and return home.

The tribe twists their story to be saved by becoming visible -- through TV coverage -- so that the boy really was their savior.

We get what we focus on, what we believe will happen. The stories we tell about ourselves often come true. If we believe we can't do it, we won't. If we believe we can, then we will.

We can become the stories we tell -- and even save a rebel tribe in the jungle!

a domani,

February 21, 2009

Positive Psychology

Greetings from Trento. The snow is great and it is also wonderful to enjoy the company of our son.

I found an article from Business Week magazine on Positive Psychology that I would like to share. It's a bit long, but near the end it talks about identifying and working from your strengths - the aspect of Positive Psychology that first attracted my interest and is now a core element of my coaching approach. (See THIS blog post).

Working from your strengths is also an approach for adapting to a new cultural or multicultural environment. Self-knowledge can open up new routes to accessing another culture, while remaining true to who you are -- your core and natural attributes and strengths. As a coach, I help you explore how to put your strengths into action step by step - to experiment, reflect and adjust over and over, until you find your own personal style to best adapt and finally thrive in a new environment.

For the Business Week article, click HERE.

a domani,

February 10, 2009

What's working

I like to start a coaching partnership with a first session that focuses on "what's working". People are always happy to talk about their problems and weakness and all the things they think they "should" do. Fine, I say, we can do that later, but for the moment lets package them up and store them under the chair and look at what's working instead. We so easily get sucked into the past (and guilt, remorse or feelings of revenge) or the future (anxiety, worry, tension) and forget that right now we really can't do much about either -- so why not just focus on what we can do now instead.

Anyway, an email arrived today with a 90 page research study full of little jewels on Italians as global managers. Of course, it started by outlining the gaps, with quotes from Italian managers to back them up. But right now I would like to share "what works":

1. The capability to innovate through using different thought systems to understand a problem and creating alternative options.

2. The (even amazing) capability to respond and manage emergency situations.

3. Sensibility to factors that involve context.

4. Capability to manage complexity and expand perspectives.

Wow, I am impressed. This is a great place to be! Ok, so Italians may have some gaps on the administration and communication side and tend to elaborate and discuss while postponing action, but, the things that work are "formidabile"! As the world and its work becomes more complex and interconnected, these natural ways of being and working, could be leveraged to make Italian managers world leaders.

a domani,

January 28, 2009

What I do

I have been developing a FAQ sheet to follow up inquiries about coaching and I thought I would share the first page with you.
There is a second page with even more answers to more questions that get more practical as they go along. Contact me to continue....

What do you do?
I am an executive and personal coach, specializing in helping international professionals make a difference.

What do you mean by make a difference?
You make a difference when you are effective in the present and focused on the future. You perform at your best when you are empowered by a sense of purpose that is grounded in your values and driven forward by your natural strengths. (sounds like someone we know -- see the post below).

Am I an international professional?
Anyone who chooses to live and work among new, changing and even challenging cultural and multicultural environments is an international professional – this could be with an international or non-governmental organization, a government, multinational or as an independent consultant. You know how to adapt and seek to grow and thrive in ongoing change and complexity.

What kind of change are you talking about?

Change from a new cultural environments, new professional roles or functions, new ways of thinking, behaving, managing, making decisions, leading.

What is a professional coach?
A coach that is certified by an ICF accredited training program, in my case, by the International Coach Academy,

What is coaching?
Coaching is a methodology to help people achieve the positive change they want in their personal and professional lives – to be and do their best. With a coach, you create a partnership that has one objective -- helping you create what you want from your life and work. Together you seek possibilities, identify what works and design ways to do more of it. The relationship is always honest and sincere, with the client -- and their skills, creativity and recourses -- as the center of focus.

How does it work?
A coach creates a safe environment in which you can explore and take risks, provides support and guides your attention, helps you take action to move forward and maintains confidentiality at all times.

Who is your ideal client?
I work with people who are thoughtful and curious, high-performing, articulate and self-aware. They want to be and do their best to make a difference in the world and are open to change in their lives to get there. They are willing to engage in an adult learning process that inspires personal and professional progress.

January 22, 2009

A few special words

A few words struck me from President Obama's inaugural speech:
Unity of Purpose
Enduring spirit
Carry forward
Nobel idea
Action, Bold, Swift
Purpose, Courage
Move forward
Change, change, change
Fair play
Hope and virtue

Our inner conversations create a picture of who we are. The words we use to talk about ourselves, our past, our future, are important defining factors as we create our reality.

I like these words above. They are words that inspire and create a vision of something I would like to be as an American.

Actually they brought tears to my eyes as I listened the other evening, along with another 500 people at a gathering organized by the Democtrats Abroad. Some of us were a bit embarassed at how emotional we had become, but it has been a long hard eight years to be an American abroad.

a domani and a new beginning,

January 16, 2009

Home sweet home

I've just received an email from the SIETAR organization (Society of Intercultural Education, Training and Research) with downloads and lots of photos from the October conference in Granada (see to your right for my workshop presentation).

I downloaded and read one of the workshops I hadn't managed to attend, held by a British colleague up in Bologna who works in intercultural training. It was on "Culture and Change". Since he works with companies in Italy, there were some interesting comparative stats on Italian culture and change.

For today, I will share just a few revelations.

Along a spectrum for "uncertainty avoidance" that runs from low (1) to high (10), Italy was ranked at 7.5, while the UK at 3.5 and Sweden 2.9.
This means that Italians tend to feel more threatened by uncertain and ambiguous situations and try to avoid them than the Brits and the Swedes. We have seen this many times in my blog.

Along another spectrum for "power distance" Italy was ranked at 5.0, while the UK stood at 3.5 and Sweden at 3.1. This means that the less powerful members of Italian society better accept that power is distributed unequally compared to the UK and Sweden (for example). We have seen this too.

Another slide showed that Italian managers are much less willing to accept postings abroad than their counterparts in other countries: Italy, 42%, Germany 55.8%, UK 59%, USA 60.3% and Sweden 72.7%

As for the Swedes, I would guess that they are more than happy to leave their county if the proposition is made in January. As for the Italians, that daily plate of pasta is hard to give up.

a domani,

January 15, 2009

Optimism is good for you

Italians are optimistic, relatively, that is relative to the general pessimism surrounding us these days. This is what a survey by the London daily the Guardian discovered. Behind Italy (in order) lie: the US, Russia, Germany, France, Spain, the UK and Japan.

Why are the Italians more optimistic? The Italian journalist Enrico Franceschini suggests the following:
1. Italians know something about the real prospects of the Italian economy that no one else knows.
2. The Italian character tends to stress more hope and trust in the stars.
3. The Italians are being fed unrealistically positive information that hides the real situation and assures, instead, that "tutto va bene" and we should let HIM take care of it. (that is, Berlusconi).

Even if the last hypothesis is true, still, optimism is a good thing and, in an economy based on trust, can even make good things happen.

Positive psychology has developed a classification system of 24 strengths called the "values in action strengths survey". The questionnaire measures human strengths in a consistent, reliable and valid manner, divided into six primary categories of strengths (or core virtues). Coaches informed by positive psychology approaches can use the results of this survey to help clients focus on their "signature" strengths to improve performance and well-being.

Along the way, they also identified the five key strengths that most strongly correlate to happiness: gratitude, curiosity, vitality, hope/optimism and capacity to love and be loved.

So, even if the economy is not going to actually bounce back as well or as quickly as the Italians genuinely hope it will, being optimistic at least makes you a bit happier as you go about your daily life.

a domani,

you can take the "VIA strengths questionnaire" by registering on the site: and clicking on the above questionnaire. It takes about 20 mintues to complete and is free (donated by the Mayerson Foundation to the public domain). Are you curious to know if curiosity is one of your "signature" (top five) strengths? It's number two on my list (after creativity) -- but I guess you would know that by following my blog.

Would you like to know more about how to put your strengths to work for better performance and personal satisfaction? contact me to schedule a free trial coaching session. leave a note on the site, email ( or call: 328 087 8207.

January 14, 2009

The edge of chaos

I love complexity. Strange, but true. Ask my friend Gillian and she will roll her eyes in desperation. Even the personality and strengths assessments I have been doing say so: "emphasizing complexity can be a motivating force" (Management Drives test), "focuses on developing complex ideas" (Enneagram profile -- "The Investigator"), "analyzes the world in depth" (Myers-Briggs personality type -- "The Architect"), creativity, ingenuity and originality (top strength with the Via Signature Strength Assessment used in positive psychology).

So, keeping this in mind, you can understand how excited I was to get to the last chapter of the book on my nightstand, "Evidence-Based Coaching Handbook: Putting Best Practices to Work for Your Clients" called Coaching from a Systemic Perspective: A Complex Adaptive Conversation. I nearly drooled in anticipation and I was not disappointed.

The article's author, Michael Cavanagh, starts with a definition of coaching as, "a journey in search of patterns". Love it (like the complex circular vector above). Then he gets into a branch of systems theory called complex adaptive systems, or complexity theory.

Don't worry, I won't explain it to you, just share a connection that came to mind as I read -- cultures are actually complex adaptive systems in that (like a human body) each part of the system is a system in its own right and they all interact in a way that makes the whole greater than the parts. It also explains why it is so hard for cultures to change, the parts keep adapting to maintain the integrity of the whole, and why it is so hard for our personal cultural systems to change as we adapt to new environments.

But I digress, what really struck me was the idea of living (and actually thriving) in a place called the "edge of chaos" -- the border between chaos and sameness in which just enough "openness" gives us just enough energy to push us out of sameness and the risk of entropy (disintegration), while not pushing us too far into receiving too much new information and diversity and finding ourselves in chaos (ie culture shock).

This made me reflect that the idea of life/work balance as an achievable perfect equilibrium is a myth. Complexity theorists would argue that steady-state functioning doesn't actually function very well. We live better in a state of "sustainable instability" or a kind of "dynamic equilibrium". Living on the edge of chaos is a "paradoxical state of unresolvable contradictory forces" and the tension between these forces "elicits creativity and innovation".

So, who wants to just live in balance when you can thrive on the edge of chaos.

Welcome to the wonderful world of complexity, and now that I think about it, the wonderful world of living and working in a new cultural environment -- certainly feels like the edge of chaos, especially in Rome traffic on a rainy day.

a domani,

* the image is of a complex circular vector. In physics, this process seeks pattern recognition at the boundary of a closed figure when there are no distinct landmarks (and speaks to my coaching model).