Knowing how and when to take emotional and behavioural responsibility is a big first step to avoiding unnecessary burnout.
Situations where our senses are overwhelmed (like significant change and adapting to new and foreign environments) can heighten sensitivity and make it easier to distort reality. The ability to take responsibility for how you feel about your work and your responses to how you are treated is critical in an expatriate situation. There may be elements to your new workplace that don't make sense, or that seem dysfunctional – and that’s normal. Blaming, or comparing to the way things are done back in your home country will just set you up for emotional burnout.
Emotional responsibility can reduce the time and energy spent on self-defeating reactions to frustrating circumstances, and help you identify solutions.
Psychologist Dr Stephen Karpman, identified the The Drama Triangle which captures the three positions we can get stuck in that erode resilience. We can come across as a:
Persecutor...demanding that that things be done the way we would like and being critical or judgemental about the way things are done differently (why don't they just do it the way we do back home!).
Rescuer...after all, that’s what the reason for our assignment sometimes feels like! They don't have the capability in their own country and so I need to be there to get the job done. The only problem is, when we fall into the role of the rescuer, we can become micro-managing and very poor delegators (because we discount their ability to get it done as well as we would). This leads to our time management blowing out and not being able to get our work done on time or at all!
Victim...other times we can feel like the Victim when it seems nothing is going our way; it's easy to feel helpless, like there's nothing we can do about the situation...and we discount our own ability to deal with the situation.
The good news is that we have a different set of choices about how we respond to situations using the three points on The Winners Triangle.
Assertive: A key to being assertive is having a clear understanding of the bigger purpose for being an expat...it's more than just your job and career...it's more about how this is contributing to your life through travel, adventure and expanding your view of the world. If we can tkeep our eye on the bigger picture it makes it easier to see the situation in front of us as a small stumble rather than a big hurdle.
Nurturing: We can be encouraging of our new peers, and give them the space to misunderstand us…just as we may have misunderstood them as well. We can also be patient, supportive and encouraging in the way we ensure knowledge transfer occurs.
Open: We can be honest in sharing our feelings, whether they are of excitement or frustration. This allows us to create more authentic relationships, and reduces the stress that comes with hiding how we feel or what we think. Note: This point on the Winners Triangle, whilst acceptable in cultures that are more egalitarian and where there is an acceptance of the airing of individual views (eg; Anglo, Scandinavian, Germanic cultures), may actually be perceived as disrespectful in cultures that rely on centralised, hierarchical power structures and rely on group harmony, such as in Asian and Middle Eastern cultures.
What are the ways you can avoid getting stuck in the Drama Triangle when adapting to a new culture?