Monday, August 21, 2006

Power of Choice

Hello Everyone,

Let me introduce you to Maria Sortino Gillette. Maria Sortino Gillette is an expert on American Culture and an independent trainer/coach. She trains expat and professionals on American culture, American business, and improving business communication with Americans. To know more about her work, visit: You can read her blog at

Today's article is written by Maria Sortino Gillette. This article gives a deep insight into the American working style and American business culture. In this article, Maria has brought out the need for one to be assertive in order to be successful in the USA.

The Power of Choice

I recently read a blog entry from Arun Kottolli about the failed expatriate assignment of one Indian family in America. Here is the story:

T. Subramanian Iyer, a highly successful sales manager from Chennai in India was asked by his company - Prestige products to work as regional sales director in San Antonio, Texas. Prestige regarded T. Subramanian Iyer (TS) as its finest young executives and promoted him to sales director for this new assignment. When offered the opportunity, TS was excited and looked forward for this new assignment and the new challenge. Top management was also confident about its decision of sending TS.

TS is a deeply religious man and had never went abroad. He and his family - wife and two children were exited of this opportunity. On arriving to US, the family's excitement slowly turned into uneasiness. Adjustment to American life proved difficult. His wife was unhappy - and apprehensive of her children education - The public school where TS had enrolled his children had a substantial Hispanic population and the quality of education was not the same as their earlier school in India. Moreover TS & his wife were constantly worried that their children would eat non-vegetrian food at school - which was very much against their religious beliefs. She also found it difficult to run the household without her usual servants.

At work, TS found things to be very difficult. The absence of a personal secretary - cramped his style. He was angry that he had to do all travel arrangements, type his own letters etc. Moreover many of his customers expected him to have lunch with them at a steak house or at a BBQ place. TS being a religious man never ate meat - and desisted eating at places which served meat. The idea of eating beef appalled him. All this had a negative impact on his performance and the company was worried due to his failure to succeed. After 6-months, TS requested to be transferred back to India and was even willing to settle for his earlier role as sales manager - a demotion.

When I read this story, the first question that came to my mind was, "Why didn't TS exercise his power of choice?" When he realized that if he did not speak up about which restaurant he and his customers would eat at, they would always choose a steakhouse, why didn't he suggest a different one?

America, the US, is a land of choices. But if you don't know that you have a right to exercise those choices, what good does it do? In an article I wrote recently for Prudential Relocation entitled "Acculturation: To Stress or Not to Stress", I wrote about the stress involved in relocating internationally. In the article, I talked about self-efficacy:

Self-efficacy is our belief in our personal ability to get things done. It's how well we think we are capable of achieving results. If you believe you have the power to produce results, to make things happen, you are more likely to attempt the required action. In this way, the way you perceive your abilities can lead to lower anxiety, and therefore reduced stress reactions. Self-confidence can positively effect how we view our environment -safety, transportation, housing, social encounters, and all of the potential stressors mentioned above. It's beliefs in our capabilities to exert some control over these potential threats, not the capabilities themselves that determine how we judge changes. With increased self-efficacy, you may judge the negativity of daily life events at a lower level and, therefore, imagine fewer problems. When you view yourself as positively being able to cope with the changes that come with international living, you will find the new environment less potentially hurtful. What was once deemed a fear of the unknown or discomfort with ambiguity has now turned into a feeling of adventure, challenge and fun.

Now, this isn't to say that I am not understanding of someone who has difficulty expressing his or her personal choices when it's obvious that the majority of the group wants a different choice. But, what I am saying is that there are ways to get around this awkwardness. One way is to lead the decision-making by being proactive. Use communication to gather everyone's input and make a decision. If you cannot eat meat and would like to have your next business lunch at a restaurant that offers a variety of vegetarian dishes, send out an email the day before with a list of a few choices of restaurants that offer both meat and non-meat dishes. Gather your responses and make a decision that will satisfy everyone in the group. Maybe instead of a lunch meeting, the meeting could be held at a coffee shop or tea house.

Once you know that you have the power to affect the outcome, you can take control. This doesn't mean you should decide for others without asking them, but you should anticipate the cultural issues and come up with some possible solutions.

Let's return again the story above to deal with another issue TS and his family had difficulty dealing with: dissatisfaction with the education of their children at school. I am assuming that their children were attending a public school, not a private school. There are a variety of private schools in the US that offer a more challenging and comprehensive curriculum. International schools are one of them. TS and his family could have done a little research into local international schools and found that the class sizes are small and that most of the students are from other countries. These schools also used advanced curricula that challenge the current academic level of their students.

Finally, there is the issue of not having a personal secretary or a housekeeper. If these were necessities to TS and his family's happiness, could he not have found a way to have them? Now I know it takes some tact when asking your home-based manager in India to provide you with a secretary, but if you make it clear that it is necessary to your effectiveness, then I believe you can successfully negotiate it. Once again, you can be proactive and initiate communication with your home country boss. In this case, you would need to use the style of communication that is most appropriate in your company and in Indian culture, but whatever that style may be, you can still offer some possible solutions that might relieve you of the everyday tasks. One solution could be to have a secretary from another department take on some of the tasks. Another solution might be to hire a part-time secretary. The point here is that there are always choices and in the US, if you wish to change an outcome, you need to suggest different choices.

Again, I believe that if you understand that, in the US, it is OK to exert your influence and communicate your desires, even if they are different from the cultural norm, you will find more satisfaction in your quality of life. Not only is it 'okay', it is required that international managers be proactive decision makers on all levels.

If you do what is within your personal power, and you still don't have things the way you would like them, then you either need to accept the differences or leave. But I guarantee that over time, with even a few changes implemented, you will feel more comfortable in your new home…at least comfortable enough to stay.

Now, while your personal secretary is sending out emails with restaurant choices for your business lunch with customers, you don't have to stress out -- you can rest easy!

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