Berlin Expat life

Language is a visceral feeling

This is a scene too familiar to English-speaking immigrants: You speak the language of the country in which you live to a native of that country. They turn around and speak English to you, even telling you they thought that you spoke English to them, when that clearly was not the case. People use words like you are an “international” in a “host country.” Other times people say you are an “expat” who is “practicing” the language of your “host country.” While on a semantic level, these words are non-derogatory and can carry upper-class connotations, the pragmatics denote otherness.

The world runs on compromised English, known as “international English.” That might be comfortable for some, but puts us long-term English-speaking immigrants in a predicament.

I have had numerous discussions with Northern Europeans about the issue of people constantly switching to English when a foreigner, especially an English speaker, speaks their language. Some people have told me that their group of language speakers is small, thus they are sensitive to mistakes, limited vocabulary and errors. Other people have told me that foreigners who speak their language sound terrible. One manager told me English speakers have “coffee Swedish,” meaning she would shoot the breeze with them over coffee in Swedish, but never have the confidence in their abilities to complete professional tasks in her native language. According to her, she never tested the waters.

Then there is the politeness explanation, which might sometimes be true, but which I suspect is also tinged with the desire to show the world how worldly one is and get a bit of free English lessons. I often get the impression that Germans (and other Europeans) insist on speaking English as a self-expression of faux-worldliness and pseudo-openness. Recently, I have even had Germans get offended at me for speaking German to them IN Germany, as if a native English-speaker who can speak German fluently is unnatural and against the rules of common decency. It seems impossible for some people to imagine that the quickest way to get to a mutual understanding is actually in German, because after two decades, my German is better than their “international English.” Beyond efficiency, there is true openness. Those who are worldly and open in the true sense of the words know that sharing one’s language is the best way to breed diversity. English speakers (or other immigrants) are here to further their own goals and perspectives in life, not exist as free language classes and costume jewelry for a so-called open society.

The roll of the eye at the Yanks or other Anglos who don’t have the simple courtesy to learn the local language has a backhanded omnipresence in circles where Northern Europeans and “internationals” share a space. I have often told people the open-mindedness of Anglos goes unappreciated. We politely nod as others slaughter our language, if we mirror those standards that are put on us in order for people to accept our German (Swedish, etc). “International English” is not the same as English that is spoken in the US, UK and other Anglophone countries. (see above paragraphs for the response to those complaints)

People often think that I am Dutch or French when I speak German, which I am happy about. Once I am perceived as a non-English speaker, people don’t switch to English. At a dinner where people admitted to thinking that I was Dutch, I asked the table about why they would be less likely to switch to English with a Dutch person than with an American, as a Dutch person might speak better English than German. The Germans said because they don’t know Dutch. The instinctual switch just didn’t happen.

My son goes to a bilingual German-American school, which is a sought-after public school with a special status in Berlin. My observation has been that parents attach an emotional significance to their children’s attendance at that school. Some see it as a lifeline to an American community. Others see its prestige and access to English as a social ladder. And everything in between. Thus, it was no surprise that the school’s open presentation of its bi-lingual concept encompassed emotional reactions and discussion from the parents. Language acquisition, categorization (there are different tracks and levels of language) and priority thereof is a statement of self, belonging and direction. Few things define us as much as the categorization based on the way we communicate with the world through words.

According to Wikipedia, almost 120000 Americans live in Germany. While there has been little research as to the demographics and permanence of this population- or similar populations, many people in Berlin and other international hubs have noticed an influx of English-speakers and other “internationals” who come here to work with open-end plans. There even exists an industry of English-language apartment searches and similar services, complete with websites with step-by-step instructions how to set-up an English-speaking life in a non-English speaking country.

It is possible to live in Berlin and speak no German. Yet is that desirable? A German-born Berliner would know that a lack of German knowledge is extremely limiting. I have seen many Germans enjoying the English-language-international-coolness of Berlin Meetups. Germans freely go between the international circles and their private German lives. Those private German lives exist in a space that is largely inaccessible to non-Germans due to language barriers and personal networks (which are also contingent on language acquisition). In my experience, the personal networks of German (and other European populations) were more porous to “internationals.” I saw more mixed native-international groups of friends in the earlier part of the last decade and in the aughts. American immigrants who came to Germany in the 1990’s, according to my observations, have tended to learn German. More recent arrivals from the US, I have noticed, take more time to get acclimated and tend to remain within “international” circles. My hypothesis is that the world is getting more insular and groups don’t discuss and mix as much as they used to, unfortunately.

If we were talking about other languages (Arabic and Turkish in Europe, Spanish in the USA, for example), natives would be up in arms about lack of integration. English though has a different status. Yet, the permanence of English-speaking populations raises the same questions as with other more scrutinized populations.

Going forward, both the migrants and the natives will have to consider how to treat language. The conversation of immigration and integration will eventually repeat itself with English speakers in Berlin and similar geographies. Children are born to English-speaking families and grow up in Germany. English speakers spend decades in Germany. What is most visible to the broader society is that English speakers live in a bubble and never bother to learn the language of their “host” country. Many English speakers I know do achieve professional-level fluency AND see Berlin (or other cities) as their HOME. These people cease being “internationals” and become part of the society and their “host country” will be their HOME. My hypothesis is that there is some confirmation bias as to why the latter group is largely ignored and people complain about the “lazy” Americans.

The languages we use, are spoken to, given access to are a question of survival. Language is visceral. Language is identity, job opportunity, place in society, place in the world, the self-narrative and the filter through which the world perceives us all.

Language is the key to integration and inclusion.

Sticks and stones may break our bones, but words create our world.

Financial planning

Ode to being a “difficult woman” and investing

Me at The Drivery in Berlin

Since I was a girl, people have told me that I am difficult, because I have strong opinions, talk too much and as a child was too rambunctious. Politeness and neatness were not my strengths either. Politics interested me more than dolls and human complexities more than gossip. I definitely liked the woods better than the mall and climbing trees better than shopping.

In adult life, I hear so much advice about what women should do to be taken seriously. In my 20s I was told to dress more feminine to please male colleagues and other things to make people feel more at ease with me being a woman who has a definite opinion and worked in a male-centric field. Eventually in my 30s, I even joined a woman’s career group to find sisters in assertiveness and career-orientation. Although there were some corporate trainings involved, I remember getting told what a woman’s nature is: consensus seeking, soft, perfectionist, maternal, family-oriented. Yes, there are women who have those traits, but don’t ask me to be that poster child.

To clarify, there are many paths to being a “difficult woman” – or a “difficult person.” It is a state of being rather than what you like to do and how you express your gender. According to my definition, “difficult” is not mean or unkind, but not fitting into an expected behavior pattern.

Despite my outward “harder” core, I took a long time to gain the confidence to invest and manage my own portfolio. I started this blog to funnel being a “difficult” woman to financial independence, investment & life management – and yes wealth accumulation.

Here are some reasons why investing is a great for “difficult women” and everybody else:

  • Online trading platforms don’t care what you wear or how congenial you are. Appearances and manners are important when you want to make friends and influence people, and they might make you feel good about yourself, but investing is cold. Computers don’t care if you say please or how you look.
  • Investing is the embodiment of a strong opinion. The act of investing is in fact the forming of a definitive opinion and action on that opinion. Investing cannot exist without opinions.
  • You stand in and learn from your mistakes. Most people loose money, even investors who have made big profits in the markets. No perfectionism here. Just trial and error, failing, learning, doing better next time.
  • Investing is a meritocracy. While in other endeavors in life, social smoothness and appealing to societal norms are helpful, they fall flat when it comes to investing. The transaction counts.
  • Investing is the art of making decisions- and being decisive. Most investors have their methods, styles and techniques. Through investing you can discover and gain confidence in your own decision making. Making a decision and not backing down is another trait often identified as “difficult” in a woman.
  • Being a contrarian is a good thing. Warren Buffet is a contrarian and an opinionated one at that. So is George Soros. Having unpopular or opposite opinions can yield good returns, even if it does not make you popular.
  • Investing is empowering. As an investor you are participating in the economy. Even with a micro-holding, you are a part-owner of a company and making decisions that impact the global economy. If you like voting, you’ll love being a shareholder.
  • Investing is fun.
  • You get to have swag. While the trades are something I do in private, talking about investing is fun and good for networking. If you know your stuff, people will enjoy talking to you and you can learn from other people. I have gotten some good tips just shooting the breeze with others.


What Novelists Can Teach Entrepreneurs

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The deepest insight into the emotional journey of entrepreneurship has come from my fellow writers, especially the novelists. Entrepreneurship comes with emotional challenges that are hard to foresee until the passion and risk become real.  Creative writing prepared me for the emotional journey of going my own way.

What a novelist knows:

Adrenaline only lasts so long. Starting a company and writing novels are more marathons than sprints. It’s about the long haul. After the adrenaline rush of the choice fades, after the stress of strategy meetings and budgeting subsides, after the networking events and the discussions with your teammates, you are alone with your ghosts, your fears and your doubts. Sam Altman, president of Y Combinator, calls this founder depression. Although salesmanship and confidence are important, honesty at least with yourself about your feelings is also crucial. Find somebody who you trust, who is not involved in your business who you can be honest with.

Embrace the writer’s cave. For many creatives, the best work comes from a prolonged hyper-focused state of extreme creativity. This state is known as the writer’s cave. If you are of the neurology that is conducive to such states, the caves will be some of your most creative, problem solving, industry changing insightful periods. Brief your partners and loved ones before (if you can) and after. Where writing a novel is often a solitary activity, entrepreneurship is team sport.

Fear is nature telling us that we still have a connection to reality.  While you cannot let fear guide your decisions, bad gut feelings are often right. False positivity is an easy trap to fall into in a scene where you are supposed to be unstoppably optimistic. Novelists are painfully honest with themselves. It is part of the craft. Try to talk about issues and hurdles early and directly. Things usually do not go away by themselves.

No brand names to act as crutches anymore. As an entrepreneur you have to rely on content and your own whit. True you can build a brand and partner with big names, however, in the beginning you are your brand. Going to prestigious schools, working for big name firms and blue chip companies gives an individual a certain intellectual and emotional crutch.

Novels and businesses often begins with a spark of genius, but craft and tenacity are what make them a sustainable reality.



Empowered. Alive. Sleepless: My first month as an entrepreneur

IMAG0935_1 (2)Empowerment is the feeling of determining my own development. My potential is no longer determined by the plans and visions drafted by higher-ups and HR, but by my ability. Leaving the structure of a blue chip to bring my ideas to life is evocative of Lewis & Clark setting out to tackle the North American continent.

Dangerous perhaps, but upward potential unlimited.

As a founder, your comfort zone is a 5-minute break between getting things done. Learning as an entrepreneur is hands-on in a way that is hard to get in either a classroom or the structure of a corporation. An entrepreneur is the sales department, corporate strategy team, CMO, chief of staff and controller. There is no shoebox to hide behind or 6-month course you need to get into before being able to go live. It is sink, swim and then pivot.

Alive. The experience touches on all emotions and pushes you to your physical limits. I was lucky enough to be able to cherry pick my co-founders. Most of my initial co-founders, partners and coaches are old friends and/or my favorite colleagues from former employers. Working with people who have been close to you enables an honesty and directness that would be hard in a corporate setting. This can be great, because you can just get to the heart of the matter. Other times professional discussions can turn personal. Being “real” is a balancing act.

We were lucky to have had our coming out a great event at the US Embassy in Berlin ( Is Germany (or Europe) the next big opportunity for Venture Capital? . We started our public life meeting venture capitalists, as well as entrepreneurs who have moved from all over the world to start-up here in Berlin. I find networking inspiring, because entrepreneurs and their investors believe in potential and are willing to work hard for their passions. Every event broadens my horizons both intellectually and emotionally.

Sleepless, because wonderful people and big ideas don’t pay the bills. I am a business owner and thus need to focus on building and running an international organization. Behind every glamourous enterprise are hundreds of hours of financial planning, workflow structuring, tax and legal advisory and customer acquisition. If we need to pivot, we need to react quickly and in agreement. The risk of entrepreneurship comes with anxiety as well. Thus long working days and less sleep, often shallower sleep.

Here are some lessons I have learned:

  • It takes a village. You will need your co-founders, family, friends, partners and coaches/mentors. Appreciate them. Thank them. Tell them why you are grateful.
  • Curiosity and the ability to learn are the two most important skills one can have.
  • Fatigue is weakness leaving the body. Entrepreneurship is tons of work. Emotionally, technically and physically.
  • Fatigue is sanity leaving the body. Know when to turn off your computer, take a day off or take a nap. Nobody can take over the world if they are too tired to hold a thought.
  • Tell everybody you know what you are doing- even people you don’t know. Pass business cards out. You never know who can help you or where/how your next customer and/or investor will come into your life.
  • Benchmark and be paranoid. Learn about the competition. Constantly think about how to gain an advantage and stay ahead.
  • Be yourself. Don’t benchmark yourself into somebody you are not. Authenticity has a premium.
  • Be optimistic. Don’t listen to the haters. See obstacles as opportunities to learn and/or barriers to entry.
  • Have a good fight culture. Passionate people with big dreams disagree. Embrace creative tension.
  • Shit happens. Correct it. Learn from it. Move on.

About me: Elizabeth Press  built up global predictive analytics and customer insights functions that created double digit, million dollar incremental margin at Dell. She also worked in strategy consulting and risk management. Contact:

About D3M Labs: We provide organizations a solution to turn the data deluge into competitive advantage. By guiding in the creation of an effective data-driven infrastructure, we enable our clients to transform the exploding volume, velocity and variety of data into a sustainable strategic advantage. Contact:

Virtual Management

Can you make real connections with virtual colleagues?


Commuting through a VPN brings colleagues’ wives and husbands, bed-head, baby cries, less-than-perfect housekeeping and home décor into the workplace.

Despite this new intimacy, how close can one get to a virtual colleague whom you rarely-if ever-meet? Does a virtual relationship ever become real? When does it cross that line from digital to actual?

Harvard Business Review wrote an article How Virtual Teams can Create Human Connection Despite Distance which highlighted ground rules for communication, creating emotional investment through aligning personal and professional goals and strengthening relationships and trust through candor. In my previous blog, Trust is a survival instinct- How do you build it in a virtual team?, I outlined how one can build trust through proactive and structured approaches to interpersonal relationships.

There is, however, a difference between being able to trust somebody on a level of successful team or project collaboration and caring about somebody on a personal level. Pros and Cons of Becoming Friends With Coworkers have been explored on About Relationships. As long as one uses prudence and maintains a professional atmosphere in the workplace, work friends are good for your professional network and personal development, as well as your attitude towards your job.

Is it possible to make a real connection that is substantial, true and stands the test of time and strain with colleagues to whom you know by phone and Internet?

In the Neighborhood on Psychology Today’s blog explained that the virtual world is good for expanding one’s contact base and maintaining connections despite distance and hectic schedules, but can have adverse effects on mental health when it is used as a substitute for the physical world. Social support is a predictor of mental health and protection against perceived negative events. Connection to the local environment is important because the real environment is where an individual finds true support from the physical social network for life’s problems as they arise.

Thus understanding when relationships are real and how to cultivate real relationships is important to the happiness and success of the virtual professional.

Here are some ways to know when a virtual relationship is real:

  • A colleague reaches out to you for a substantial discussion about the death of a family member, birth of a child or other less important event in a way that is not visible to other team members and does not fish for information.
  • You can talk to a colleague for at least an hour about everything but work and be sad the call or video conference is over on multiple occasions. Talking to that colleague actually makes you feel happy in its own right, not because you have gotten ahead on a task or attained political knowledge.
  • A colleague reaches out to you to solve work issues with which they are struggling for personal reasons on multiple occasions.
  • You have had discussions about controversial topics and/or deep discussions multiple times, and a colleague does not repeat what you have talked about to others.
  • Colleagues visit where you live on vacation and contact you for a night on the town or similar social occasion.

Here are some words of caution:

  • Some of the best conversations I had with people in a virtual environment are with people who have very different moral and political views, but tread lightly at first and gain an understanding of mutual respect before delving into a debate. Do NOT try to convert the other person to your views.
  • Meet in real life before you consider somebody a friend if you can. Make sure that you two can stand each other for an hour of mutual exposure in a café or meeting room even before you consider somebody a close connection. If meeting is not possible, try to video conference as much as possible.
  • Pick wisely. Not everybody can be trusted. Not everybody is interested. Not everybody is worth your time.
  • Do not sacrifice your real world relationships for virtual friends. Both are important. Both should be respected. However, the people you live with are your most important support network.
  • Despite good intentions, not everybody is capable of maintaining virtual or long distance friendships.

Only time can tell whether somebody is a passing acquaintance with whom you shared a few good chats or  a lifelong contact and personal friend. Establishing real relationships over a VPN is challenging, but possible with the right commitment and time investment in select individuals.

Expat life Financial planning

Perpetual contingency: Why expat procrastination is expensive

The Atlantic Monthly published an article The Procrastination Doom Loop—and How to Break It in which it states that procrastination has two drivers:

1) We feel that we are in the wrong mood to complete a task.

2) We assume our mood will improve in the future.

Expats often have a unique element to their moods: Perpetual contingency. Many of us live our lives with the idea that next year we can return to our home country or move to another country. Immigration regulations can change, our relationships can end, our jobs can go sour, and some other place might just be more interesting.

For expats, procrastination is often driven by the following considerations:

  • We are not comfortable with our current situation and/or unfamiliar with our host country’s financial system – and we are too busy getting acclimated to think about investing.
  • Next year will be better. By then we will understand our surroundings or be in a different country.

Every year we remind ourselves that we still have not reached that level of stability we had hoped for.  When we are not too busy learning a language, trying to fit into a foreign office culture, dealing with an intercultural misunderstanding in our personal relationships – or dealing with complicated tax forms – the last thing we want to do is delve into the complicated world of investing our hard earned money in a foreign market. Thus we let another year go by without investing.

Here are some tips on how to break out of the expat procrastination doom loop.

  • Make a project plan for your decision process: Make a list of the decisions you would like to take, as well as the information you need to make good decisions (I will blog further on this subject).  Put aside time to dedicate to this process every week. Start by small chunks of time during which information can be consumed without disruption to your life (i.e. during a train commute, lunch, at the gym, before going to sleep.)
  • Get an external person to enforce investment deadlines: We are often too kind to ourselves. Get somebody whom you trust to keep you honest.
  • Embrace perpetual contingency: Some of us are born to wander. That does not mean that we can’t invest. That means we have to understand the tax implications of our investments in our home country, our host country and potential future host countries. Remember to consider exit strategies (and their tax implications) when looking for investments.
  • Start small: The first step is often the hardest to take. Your first investment in a foreign market is a matter of taste. Mine was a money market fund.

Those of us who roam by choice have selected the road less taken – a road full of vulnerabilities and regulations.  That being the case, we need to take our own road when planning our futures.

Expat life Financial planning

The international life for rent and when to buy

The decision to buy real estate is a difficult one to make - especially for expats.

The renting vs. buying decision is key to financial and life planning. Our homes are usually our biggest investment, both financially and emotionally. Being an expat can delay and complicate this decision. The nuances of life as an expat take a great deal of energy on a day-to-day basis. They also complicate financial planning – and the decision whether to rent or buy.

First, let’s talk about human capital and how it is affected by expat life.

Human capital is the economic value of our skillset. In financial planning, one must determine if one’s human capital is stock-like or bond-like. Outlined in this Morningstar the article Find the Right Stock/Bond Mix, bond-like human capital is stable and predictable. The other side of the spectrum is equity-like human capital, which more volatile and unpredictable.

There are two elements here:

-Baseline uncertainty and/or hectic nature of expat life.

As expats, our professional and personal lives are tied to our ability to connect and integrate into other cultures, learn other languages and are bound by immigration, employment and many other bureaucratic intricacies. All those factors together make create an environment that has some hefty uncertainties.


Let’s face it.  We have earned the privilege (or got ourselves into this situation), because we are out for adventure, open to new experiences, willing to take risks – any or all of the above. While generalizations cannot be made, expats are usually people who don’t just fade into the background and are willing to step out of their comfort zones to attain their goals. While all the above qualities can greatly improve earning potential, they also add quite a bit of risk.

Now we have ascertained that expats tend to be on the equity side of the human capital spectrum.

Real estate could be a good diversification.

For the middle to upper middle class professional expat, that means investing a substantial part of their financial capital in a market where local knowledge might be limited and ability to stay can be uncertain. Tax and legal implications can be costly to ascertain. 

Let’s now throw FATCA into the mix.

For US expats, the FATCA regulations described in my post Why it is so easy for expats to let financial planning slip through the cracks of everyday life are a game changer. Investing in securities has gotten more cumbersome and expensive for US expats. Real estate is an asset class that is still open to us outside the bounds of this legislation.

Buying real estate is an attractive investment alternative for expats who have the human & financial capital to support such a decision and are looking to diversify their portfolio and remain compliant.

Something to think about for those of us who never wanted to lay down anchor.

Expat life Financial planning

Why it is so easy for expats to let financial planning slip through the cracks of everyday life

As Expats we work hard to achieve the dream of permanent residency status and earning a stable living in the profession of our choice in the city of our choice. With all the stress of the myriad of bureaucratic misalignments that come along with international life, expats often don’t pay attention to important information regarding our financial planning. This includes the increasing financial regulation such as the US Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) that is making financial planning and investing harder for US persons. We can no longer just assume that, similarly to our compatriots back home and neighbors in our host countries, we can open bank accounts, invest in securities or trade in the hopes of securing a better future.

Germany and the US have recently signed an agreement regarding reporting and compliance with FATCA. As reported on Offshore News Flash:  “Enacted by the US Congress in 2010, and effective from July 1, 2014, FATCA is intended to ensure that US authorities obtain information on accounts provided by foreign financial institutions (FFIs) to US persons. Failure by an FFI to disclose information about their US clients will result in a requirement to withhold 30 percent tax on payments of US-sourced income.”

Germany is not the only country to sign an intergovernmental agreement with the US under which financial institutions in Germany will report information on US customers to the German tax office, which will report this information to the IRS. UK and Spain have also signed such agreements.

These regulations add additional complications to expat life. Not only are we trying to make ends meet and build a life in another country, but we now have to understand how we can meet our life goals and remain in compliance.

What are some first steps that we as expats can take to make sure that our hard work secures a stable future?

  • Start thinking about the person we want to be in 10 or 20 years and the financial support we need to achieve these goals.
  • Inform ourselves of compliant investment opportunities available to us. This might be a bit discouraging, as the financial regulation has limited our investment possibilities.

Then comes the hard part: Assessing one’s current financial situation, ones goals and the tools that are available to achieve those goals.

I will write more about what expats should consider when crossing the chasm between their current situation and the future life they desire.  

Expat life Virtual Management

Why do we remember some people more positively than others?

 Certain people I admire, respect and like. Others – well I would rather forget. Being an international individual, I have crossed the paths of many people. Some of them are my closest friends; some of them are colleagues, managers, professors, mentors, vendors or clients. Others are people I talked to at a bus stop.

I have distilled common traits of those individuals I remember positively and those –well I would rather keep my distance from.  Then I asked myself what this says about them – and myself?

People I remember positively. According to the Psychology Today, we tend to have somewhat positive self-images and recall memories that help us maintain those images.

Here is a list of factors that made me think positively about people in my past:

  • Collaboration: We had a common problem, obstacle, foe (be it an exam, a project). We worked hard together and overcame.
  • Understanding: It might have been a fleeting “I feel your pain” or an all-night talk, but people who understood how I felt.
  • Listening: Those people who not only heard me talk, but who took the time to listen to what I was saying.
  • Learning: Those people who taught me something – wittingly or not.
  • Kindness: Those people who could have walked by, could have said nothing, but chose to care.
  • Graciousness: Appreciation goes a long way. When I gave it my all, really tried – whether I was successful or not – those people who acknowledged my effort.

People I remember negatively:  According to this study “Bad is Stronger than Good,” published in the Review of General Psychology, we are more motivated to avoid bad self-definitions than to pursue good ones.  Even if we have many positive experiences, our brains take more time and energy to process the negative ones.

Here is a list of factors that made me think negatively about people in my past:

  • Snobbery: Those people who did not talk to me or only did so sparingly for a vague notion of being “better.” Name droppers, braggers and others who belittled to make themselves look and/or feel better all go on the list of people who have left a negative impression.
  • Deceit: Those people who lied, who were backstabbing, who did not deliver on their promises.
  • Chronic Lateness: Even though tardiness is forgivable in small doses, it is a subtle sign of disrespect and a waste of my precious resource – time.
  • Nastiness: People who made fun of others, were rude or difficult to waiters unnecessarily, ran the rumor mill made me wary and take my distance.

Does your list look similar and what does that say about me, you – and all of us?

Virtual Management

Trust is a survival instinct- How do you build it in a virtual team?

Trust is essential for collaboration, but is the most delicate element of a relationship. Once broken, trust is very hard to rebuild. This Harvard Business Review blog pointed out that some biologists believe that we are hardwired to distrust anybody but our own family members. So how can one build and maintain trust with people who you hardly know, with whom you sort of compete, who come from different cultures- and whose face you have never seen?

The most important element I have seen is a proactive and structured approach to establishing a personal relationship. Here is how to go about establishing trust with virtual team members:

• Understanding and actively appreciating the other person’s professional background, abilities, talents and even private interests.

• Asking open questions about the other person’s motivations. Not everybody has the same expectations out of their jobs and thus motivations for collaboration differ person to person. This is especially true when dealing with different cultures.

• Understanding the importance a person puts on a particular interaction, project or other aspect of their work. Along with different motivations, personalities and cultures comes different levels of importance people place on different aspects of their work. Something that might seem meaningless to you might be highly important to a coworker – or vice versa.

• Emotional boundaries are often hard to define and understand. They differ person to person. Past experience, interpersonal dynamics, personality and culture are all elements that affect these boundaries. Try to think about the boundaries different people put up and do your hardest to respect them.

Often transgressions occur, but it is important to forgive yourself and others – within reason. Forgiveness leads to anger and worse if it is not accompanied by communication and learning for the future. Forgiveness does not mean forgetting or that a transgression was acceptable. It means that you are willing to move on and give that person future chances to rebuild trust.

Some people are not trustworthy and giving them a second chance will have adverse effects. Understanding which individuals are trust worthy is difficult. Here is a great Forbes article about knowing who to trust.

In the end of the day trust is a survival instinct. We should all ask ourselves who we trust and why. Moreover, what we can do to make ourselves more trustworthy.