Why are local friendships important when working abroad as a foreign manager?

We’ve been talking about the many reasons over the past few weeks, and it all boils down to this:

Friendship = Experience with, Exposure to, and Engagement with the Culture

Experience, Exposure, Engagement

Without experience with and exposure to the host culture, you cannot be a great leader to employees of that culture.

Without interest in the lives of your employees, they’ll show no interest in following you.

Without curiosity and enthusiasm for that which is most important to them – their culture –, you won’t inspire enthusiasm in teamwork.

The best leaders have a way of making their employees feel on their level. That you are “one of them,” so to speak.

This is why local friendships, both inside and outside of the office, can aid that sense of being “one of them.”

Because it’s only outside the four walls of the office where you will be fully exposed to the culture of your host country.

And with this exposure and experience, not only will you be able to adapt to and adopt the culture easier, but you’ll better avoid cross-cultural “monkey moments.”

Small Appeals to Friendship

It may be that your circumstances allow for little opportunity to make friends.

Whether you’ve been dropped into a foreign country with little notice or you’re an international manager on-the-move, time might not be on your side, making socializing with locals more difficult.

Moreover, as an international manager, you might be more isolated from local culture, due to your children going to international schools, your work-life being spent wooing clients on the golf course, your family life taking precedence, etc.

So rather than spending your time on an all-consuming mission to make friends, you’ll make better headway with small appeals to common interests.

Built-in Common Interests

If you’re religious, local congregations are a great way to integrate into the local culture with a common interest already woven in.

Congressional communities often embrace their congregants and provide various gatherings and festivals in which to come together.

Sports are another way.

My wardrobe includes sportswear with fencing insignias from U.S. and Spanish clubs. Wearing them provokes conversation or offers a segue into one about shared sports.

Knowledge of your host country’s national sports inspires camaraderie.

Many tend to be enthusiastic about their favorite sports teams, so showing curiosity in this shared interest provides an opening into a warm conversation.

Maybe sports aren’t your thing.

Cultural events are a fun venture to get to know different community cultures in your host country.

A regional food festival in Italy?


An international film festival in the U.S.?

A perfect way to spend the day.

Create opportunities for yourself. No matter your circumstances, you can find small ways to initiate friendships or common bonds with locals. 

Not only will you be exposed to the culture of the host country as a whole, but you’ll experience the micro cultures of regional communities.

It’s your responsibility as the monkey to take that initiative.

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