7 Habits of Highly Effective Expats

‘Your life doesn’t just “happen.” Whether you know it or not, it is carefully designed by you. The choices, after all, are yours. 

You choose happiness. You choose sadness. You choose decisiveness. You choose ambivalence. You choose success. You choose failure. You choose courage. You choose fear. 

Just remember that every moment, every situation, provides a new choice. And in doing so, it gives you a perfect opportunity to do things differently to produce more positive results.’

These words are Stephen Covey‘s,  the author of the best-selling book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. The habits that the title of the book refers to apply equally to a special kind of human, the expatriate.

Habit 1: Be proactive

Proactiveness is about taking responsibility for your life. Why is this so important for an expatriate?

Well, if you are happy about your posting abroad, when you see it as a new positive experience it is likely to be a success. However if you feel that your company is sending you abroad to a country that is not your choice than it is likely that your posting is going to fail.

Remember the choice is yours. There is always the possibility to say no. There is a difference between: I can, I want to and I must.

Habit 2: Begin with the end in mind

So, where do you want to be at the end of your assignment? Think about it for a moment. Do you want to enjoy your new country, learn the language, visit the area, get to know the people or are you just here do to a job, perhaps enjoy your family life? Be conscientious about your choices and be honest about it.

Success should not come at the expense of things that are far more valuable to you.

Habit 3: Put first things first

What is urgent, what is important? Important affairs can sometimes wait, whereas other things are perhaps urgent, but not important. Does it really matter what colour or brand your new car will be? Dawdling to choose will keep you from more important affairs, such as choosing a home for your family or the right school for your kids.

Habit 4: Think win-win

This is particularly important when moving into a new culture or country. Perhaps your are used to a more efficient way of working in your base country. You think that your colleges would benefit from doing business your way. However, there might be a good reason why your co-workers carry on the way they do.

To create a win-win situation one needs to keep to these three points:

  1. Integrity: sticking with your true feelings, values, and commitments
  2. Maturity: expressing your ideas and feelings with courage and consideration for the ideas and feelings and culture of your co-workers.
  3. Abundance Mentality: believing there is plenty for everyone.

Covey says the following about the win-win habit:

‘Many people think in terms of either/or: either you’re nice or you’re tough. Win-win requires that you be both. It is a balancing act between courage and consideration. To go for win-win, you not only have to be empathic, but you also have to be confident.

You not only have to be considerate and sensitive, you also have to be brave. To do that–to achieve that balance between courage and consideration–is the essence of real maturity and is fundamental to win-win’.

Habit 5: Seek first to understand, then to be understood

Again, this is especially important in cross-cultural issues. You might not understand the language of your host country (completely). Even when you do, you do not seem to really understand what or why something is happening?

Keep in mind that when dealing with other cultures and nationalities there is always a bias from your own culture and values.

Habit 6: Synergize

Synergy means “two know more than one.” Synergize is the habit of creative coöperation.

Teamwork across cultures might not be easy, however when you learn to cope with these there are many benefits to reap. Among the advantages of diversity in the workplace are: increased creativity, increased productivity, new attitudes, new language skills, global understanding, new processes, and new solutions to difficult problems.

Habit 7: Sharpen the saw

Last but not least: Sharpen the saw means taking care of the most important asset you have, you. New beginnings in a new country can be exciting. Nevertheless moving abroad can at times be difficult, especially if you are unfamiliar with the language. Take care of yourself and your loved ones. Take time to relax, to do sports and be sure to make time for your family, especially when you have a demanding new job.

Finally, on the journey to success don’t forget to enjoy the ride.


Further reading


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