It has been three months since the last post in which I shared my experiences working with expats from different parts of the world.
Three months of uncertainty, of continuing to hear very different stories, and of working hand in hand in managing difficulties.
They have also been three months marked by many changes, some due to the COVID-19 pandemic and others to social movements. But of course, a time in which we have not stopped working and learning.
From Sinews (and I imagine that from anywhere) we have been aware of two important and relevant changes in the day-to-day life of international companies and institutions, on the one hand teleworking and on the other the importance of respecting and empowering diversity.
Teleworking seems to have come to stay and that as a country we are approaching the European percentage of working hours from home. Although we are beginning to envision a new law to regulate it, there is much work to be done to get the most out of this new alternative.
A few weeks ago I was talking with an employee of a multinational in one of our follow-up and emotional support sessions about this new situation and it seemed very representative of what many of us live today, perhaps even because I felt deeply identified.
The employee we will call Mrs. P is working outside her home country. In her case, she has the company of her partner and children, which on the one hand appreciates and enjoys the time she can spend with them thanks to saving it on work-home transfers, but on the other hand, it has made her face difficulties, such and as she verbalized “We have been used to having a routine for so many years in which I travel, work and he takes care of the paperwork, the house, the transfers, that this situation has been almost like starting to know other parts of our relationship ”.
Mrs. P has not faced major problems with her partner, but she has experienced situations in which she has had to manage both her time and stress levels. As we mentioned in our session, despite the benefits of working from home, there are weeks in which “a waterfall of difficulties” arise in different areas.
This is how we address the importance of maintaining routines and setting limits to work. I think we have all heard a lot about this topic and about the difficulty of disconnecting when we work from home, but if we want to tackle it we should go further: what is it that makes me not disconnect, not respecting certain limits that I create myself?
For some people it may be the uncertainty and fear of the future job, for others, they need for recognition, certain personal beliefs, judgments ... or as in the case of Mrs. P the need to have everything under control, to "micro-evaluate" every detail, every possible little achievement or failure.
In our biweekly session, we talked about it and how to handle it, as well as about trying to train a kinder and more assertive communication with your family when time is required "as if by being at home you are not working" in her own words.
The session is interesting because of how representative it is of what many of us feel while teleworking, but also because it can normalize these difficulties and emotions.
I decided to write this post because the same day that I had the session with Mrs. P, in the afternoon I connected again to our online platform for the first interview with another employee of a multinational, whom we will call Mr. Q and after the two sessions I thought how much our current work and social panorama showed.
With Mr. Q I had the opportunity to address the discomfort and difficulties that he anticipated in his next project due to working with a very diverse team.
It seemed extremely sincere to me, we all know the virtues of diversity, as the famous Italian phrase "Il mondo è bello perchè è vario" quotes (the world is beautiful thanks to its variety), but this diversity is not free from difficulties and bad times.
If we want to enjoy and respect these differences, the first thing we must do is be aware of the biases we have, such as familiarity, we all tend to better evaluate what is known to us, or self-serving or group biases. , for which we will always make judgments that benefit our group and our own identity.
There begins the true work of respect and appreciation, acknowledging our evaluations, prejudices, and behaviors.
Mr. Q had a bad experience in the past with a language-related issue and acknowledges that it affects him emotionally. On the one hand, it makes him angry at the fact that he is judged for "a simple set quote" and on the other hand, it makes him feel tense in case this happens again.
During our session, we work on that discomfort and how to regulate it.
It is normal that we feel angry or in need of reaffirming our position since as Mr. Q says “I feel judged and I have to defend myself”, but I can differentiate between reacting or responding.
That is, before letting my anger and defensiveness grow I can try to give myself some extra time and to turn down the volume of my emotion in order to respond in a more rational way. Emotional regulation exercises through psycho-education, Mindfulness, and relaxation are very useful for professionals and people who work in diverse environments.
We also work not only on how to reduce discomfort and manage those difficult emotions but also on learning from the positive, that is, from the amplification of our personal strengths. Mr. Q considers himself an empathic person, in fact, he assures that his friends and family would describe him as someone who "knows how to listen".
So why not take advantage of that strength you already have? When the idea of another person or their position collides with ours and makes us feel uncomfortable, we can always turn our attention to curiosity and empathy. This is one of the practical exercises that I propose to Mr. Q:
1. Identify the discomfort, accept it and try to "turn down its volume"
2. Putting ourselves in the shoes of a researcher, asking the other person, gathering information, and finally trying to understand why they feel this way.
As we discussed in our session, these exercises help us not only to improve our emotional regulation in interpersonal situations but also to cultivate an open and empathetic mind.
We conclude the interview with a series of practical guidelines for the real management of diversity and with the possibility of having another session if necessary.
As I said at the beginning of this post, these two sessions are very representative of the problems that we currently encounter and of which we are increasingly aware of our services to international companies, educational institutions, and individuals.
For this reason, at Sinews we work to develop programs aimed at continuing to grow in this digital and inclusive “new normality”.
I finished that working day, before going on a well-deserved vacation that would last three weeks, writing the report for Mr. Q, in which in addition to detailing some practical recommendations, I recommended the wonderful book "Talking to Strangers" by Malcolm Gladwell.
Back at work and remembering those two sessions I realize that this September is different but also a new beginning in terms of opportunities and challenges in the area of mental and organizational health.