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Should I stay or should I go? – Intercultural coaching to support and empower partners on internatio

Global relocations are great career opportunities offering travel and inspiring life-changing experiences in a new cultural setting.

But they can also be a challenge for the whole family moving places.

“Statistically, families’ inability to adapt to the new environment is the largest cause of assignment failure, and most HR departments consider employees’ families a risk”, says Evelyn Simpson from U.K.-based consultancy Thriving Abroad in an interview with SHRM (Society for Human Resource Management).

Here is the fallacy: A lot of these challenges are not visible right at the beginning (when assignee and spouse are prepared thanks to cross-cultural training and coaching), but pop up or creep in slowly months after the arrival. While many assignees face complex work situations, some of the real assignment blockers come out of the ordinary everyday life.

These issues need and can be addressed with intercultural coaching to ensure the success of international assignments – for the assignee, the accompanying partner, the children and the assignee’s company.

Let’s zoom into one classical example:

Anna, a Swedish native, 35 years old, married, has been living with her husband and their 3 year-old boy in France for the last 10 months. In her Swedish hometown, she used to work for a big company as a graphic designer. She now tries to set up her freelance graphic design business. But she lacks the energy to do it. Despite her French language knowledge getting better and better, she has a hard time integrating. She misses her friends and her parents, too far for helping out with the toddler. She feels lonely and at the same time ashamed that she feels that way because they live in a very pretty town a few minutes away from the beach.

Her husband Martin enjoys his work in the French headquarters of his company. He loves the French life style and the possibility to ride his road bike during lunchtime with his fellow sporty colleagues. He is responsible for launching an important project and his one-year-assignment needs to be extended for another year. Anna is far from enthusiastic about that. She would love to move back home and wonders:

“Should I stay or should I go?

  • Should I remain loyal to my husband and neglect my own career ambitions?

  • Should we consider a split family set up with me and our son back home and Martin working in France during the week?

  • What other options do we have?”

The last 10 months were tough on their relationship and family dynamics. Martin does his utmost to perform at work, and also to be a good husband and father. His private situation adds tremendously to his stress level at work. To simplify: One happy person goes badly hand in hand with an unhappy one.

Anna eventually seeks a way to get out of this dilemma and to transform this unhappiness into new energy. The first and most important step is done! Suddenly there is the willingness for not remaining in this state but move on. This is the key ingredient for our coaching process.

Actually, the question is not: Should I stay or should I go? But rather:

  • If I stay what do I need to set up for happiness?

  • Or if I go what do I need to do to maintain a healthy and happy family life?

We take a systemic approach. We identify the most important pillars of Anna’s life and their impact on her identity. We analyse what is working well and what is missing in each of those pillars. We recap French and Swedish cultural differences, their underlying values and put them in context. We visualise a lot. We change perspectives. We reframe. With “The Inner Team”* we hear all her inner voices and make sure they all get a chance to speak up. We identify them, we find out what drives them, we also get to hear the quiet voices, and we structure them.

Step by step, Anna’s mental mess that kept her awake at night turns into small objectives. The small objectives become part of a bigger action plan. Anna has a vision for herself.

And suddenly, the answer to the “should I stay or should I go” question becomes a no-brainer. These answers and strategies that Anna found and that we assemble into a clear action plan fill up her empty energy batteries. Reenergized, she is ready to move on. She is ready to keep on supporting Martin’s career choice while working on her own career.

Is it that simple? No, if you are on your own. Yes, if you seek support. We are curious to hear your story:

I can support you in English, French or German:

Eva-Maria Hartwich

* A coaching model from F. Schulz von Thun

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