Feeling somewhat confused or disappointed after several months in a new country is not unusual… Sometimes it may be a relief to receive some help in unravelling one’s clew of thoughts.
Meeting my new coachee
As always when I’m about to meet a new coachee, I feel both excited and a bit nervous. I like coaching. That’s why I’m excited. I find great satisfaction in trying to help people leverage (cultural) differences, discover a more effective personal approach, overcome hurdles at work or unleash potential to reach meaningful objectives.
But since my work involves confidential sessions during which personal viewpoints and behaviour are discussed in an open and sometimes rather confronting way, it is also important that there be a personal click between coach and coachee. This explains why I am a bit nervous too. Will there be a click?
It is our first face to face coaching session after we spoke on the phone. The coachee confessed he felt confused about his job, about the Netherlands. He indicated he would be interested in personal coaching because he admitted he could use a figurative nudge to come to grips with the situation.
As we sit down over a cup of tea, my Asian coachee, a senior project manager, in his mid thirties, starts telling me about his career, his choices, ambitions and goals. He stresses out that he really likes his work, feels he has made the right decision in accepting this job. He’s determined to make the most of it.
After a while, it strikes me that he is describing the situation in a rather analytical way. As I listen to his carefully chosen words, his eyes, his tone and posture give away the real issue. I ask him: ‘Are you happy?’
He looks startled by this question. Perhaps he hadn’t expected our conversation to take a personal turn. But I notice that he feels invited to tell his story.
Standing out from the crowd
‘I have the feeling I came in as a new me, eager to conquer the world, feeling good, wearing a brand new trendy suit, ready to make a difference. But now, after eight months, my new me has turned pale. I’m still wearing this same suit, but now it seems to make me stand out from the crowd in an alienating way. It doesn’t seem to fit me or the surroundings. I am confused, don’t know what to do. One day I feel like giving in, like retreating, and the next I want to fight again. For sure, the honeymoon is over.’
It sounds as if reality has overruled expectations. I ask him for a concrete example.
The Brabant quarter of an hour margin
‘I still find it hard to come to grips with the Dutch systems and customs,’ my coachee explains. ‘I’m still puzzled by the power of the clock. Time seems to master my Dutch colleagues, not only at work but also at home: time always seems scarce, you should not waste time but manage time efficiently. There seems to be so much to do, while there always seems to be so little time.’
‘I don’t really bother about time,’ he continues. I feel you should take your time. Slow down, relax! Follow your natural rhythm. I’m not used to let time decide for me. Therefore, I feel I cannot live up to expectations at work.’
He smiles as he adds: ‘I also seem to miss nuances. The clock rules and yet there seems to be always time for the Brabant quarter of an hour margin, especially when it comes to meetings. Trying to come to grips with this kind of things always seems to result in failures of communication. Funny at first, but rather troublesome by now.’
Do not feel sorry for yourself
‘More and more I tend to keep myself to myself. So, if you ask me what it is that I want, I guess I’m looking for a way to regain my earlier enthusiasm,’ my coachee confesses.
I ask him what he would recommend to a friend who would find himself in a similar situation. With another smile, he says: ‘I would recommend him not to feel sorry for himself, but to go and do something about it.’
Dealing with assumptions and expectations
How to go on from here? We agree that getting to know my coachee’s own expectations and assumptions would be a good start.
So I invite him to write down what he expects from his work, his colleagues, his social life in the Netherlands. And I also invite him to list the things that make him happy, that make him smile and bring out his most sparkling personality.
In our next session these findings and viewpoints will be the starting point in the process to help him find a more satisfactory approach to deal with the Dutch, with different time perspectives, and also to deal with himself and his own assumptions and expectations.
Commitment and responsibility
Finally, I ask my coachee to reflect on the session. He indicates that he feels relieved to have taken this step. He admits that he finds the way I’m holding him a mirror rather confronting. But he also admits that I have touched some tender spots and feels positive about the outcome of the sessions.
As for me, I feel my coachee is definitely committed to take action and eager to work things out. That’s good. That means we can make good progress. I estimate that another four coach sessions should be sufficient to help him reach his objectives, to deal with cultural differences, to come to grips with the situation and find renewed enthusiasm in his work.
No pressure and a new suit
In this particular case, it will be helpful to be able to adopt an Asian time perspective, to take our time and not to put ourselves under time pressure. I know it will make my coachee feel more comfortable and help him to openly share his thoughts.
As he leaves the premises, I smile as I have a vision of my coachee having made himself a new suit, both comfortable and outstanding, tailor-made and meeting both Asian and Dutch expectations.