The 4 Phases of Project and Culture Shock

culture-shockBefore I moved over to the US, I did lots of research — how to get a driving license, how to quickly improve my credit score, what to call a pavement/lift/boot/bonnet, how to open a bank account, where the nearest supermarkets were, etc., etc.

One other thing I found on my research was something called Culture Shock, “a feeling of disorientation experienced by someone who is suddenly subjected to an unfamiliar culture.” This seems to happen in 4 phases:

  1. Honeymoon – Everything seems new and exciting, with lots of possibilities.
  2. Negotiation – The initial excitement wears off and even the simplest task can prove hard and frustrating.
  3. Adjustment – The differences and changes have been taken onboard, and routines have been developed.
  4. Mastery – You are able to participate fully and comfortably in the new culture.

Having been here for 20 months, I’ve moved through the first two and am in the adjustment phase. Knowing that there were these phases made it easier to cope.

I’ve also recognized that work and projects can follow similar phases. When starting on a new project or learning some new technology, the first days/weeks can be real buzz of excitement with all sorts of new things to be learnt and possibilities to be explored. This is the honeymoon phase.

After this there can be a difficult period — the negotiation phase. It can be harder to do things than you first thought. Things that used to work well for you in a previous project no longer seem valid for this new one. You might be communicating with new, different people, and they might have different communication styles and patterns to what you had become used to.

Then the adjustment phase starts to kick-in as you get used to the new way of working. New routines have become more familiar, and early frustrations have been understood and overcome.

And then you reach the fourth stage (mastery), where making changes is fast and easy, communication is a given, and the tools and tech you are using are really making you fly.

Understanding that these stages/phases exist and being able to recognize your place in them can be really useful in helping deal with any frustrations or problems, whether it’s moving to a new city, country, job or working on a new project.