When I first started my consulting career in London, I wanted nothing more than to leave the country and explore the world. Wish granted! On my first day as a junior consultant, I started work on a global supply chain transformation project where I got to discover the four corners of the world.

This blog will tell you a little bit more about my personal path and my views on the ups and downs of travelling for work all over the world.

Growing up as an ‘international’

I think the fact that I was almost born in an aeroplane set me up perfectly for the international career I was thirsting for. I am French with Lebanese parents, studied in Ottawa, and finally ended up working in one of the most prestigious square miles in the world: The City of London.
Through my international experience I have learnt the importance of multicultural teams, of adapting to other cultures and immersing myself within the traditions, way of working and lifestyle of the local place you land in. I call this the “art of wearing two hats”, your own hat and the local one. So why do you need to wear two hats? Wouldn’t it be simpler to keep your own and expect everything to work out just like when you are at home? Unfortunately not. Being able to switch hats and learn to adapt to your local landscape by wearing the “local hat” are critical to help you succeed internationally. No one can “survive” for very long on the international scene without understanding the local challenges, the religious aspects as well as the dos and don’ts when it comes to ways of working or simple interaction with local people (including your client) outside of work.

Empathy and understanding is vital
Take, for example, working in the Middle East. To start with, weekends are different. For instance, when I worked in Oman a typical working week would be from Saturday to Wednesday. It’s also important to realise that wearing your “local hat” when you approach a female client is crucial as you can easily offend her if you try to shake her hand. Touching a woman’s hand can be offensive to some Muslims. Also, working during Ramadan is very difficult because the working days are shorter for the locals and it is very difficult to arrange meetings with clients. So you need to keep your “own hat” and drive the project through other means while respecting the locals during their month of fasting.

Re-learning the way to work
Working in China is very different, because not all Chinese are fluent in English and it is important to adapt your language accordingly. While Germans are generally very detailed orientated, Chinese are more output focused. This is where you need to switch your own hat to the local Chinese hat, otherwise you will get frustrated very quickly. I learnt this the hard way by diving straight into the details of a statistical tool I developed for a high tech mobile company and I realised than within minutes none of my Chinese clients were listening to me. I spoke to my Chinese client contact and she advised me to go straight to the final slide of my presentation. All I had to do was start from the last slide and work my way up to the details… and it worked!
Another example would be that in India employees will naturally say ‘yes’ even when they may not understand the task or question so it is important to be clear to ensure the task was understood by requesting feedback.

Seven steps to international success
In essence, here are my top tips for those who wish to be successful on the international scene:

  • Learn a few words in the local language because greeting clients in their mother tongue goes a long way.
  • Be aware that your sense of humour may not be well received everywhere.
  • Don’t take things personally. When unsure of a situation, take some distance.
  • Do your homework by researching and learning about the local culture as it will help you integrate quicker and not do anything which will offend your client.
  • Be yourself: adapting is not faking but is critical to master the art of wearing two hats.
  • Be open minded: a narrow mind does not have room for diversity.
  • Respect cultures, religions and avoid discussing sensitive topics such as politics or religious beliefs with your client.

Finally, what I wish to emphasise is that no matter where you go in the world, there is always going to be exciting things for you to learn and for you to embrace, assuming  you are up for the challenge and willing to compromise on your personal comfort and social life. I have always said it, there is nothing more powerful than a diverse team and by continuing to engage on a global level we are, in essence, open to mastering the art of wearing two hats in order to break cultural barriers and work better together despite our origins.

Indeed, the world is ours to take on!