5 Soft Skills of Expat Partners | Why it Matters


These 5 traits, also called “soft skills”, are generally recognized as the most important to succeed: adaptability, empathy, cultural competence, intellectual curiosity and 360 degrees thinking.

Soft skills are not only indispensable in the workplace but they help people be more resilient, make better decisions and allow them to better overcome challenges in their lives.

Guess what? You might not realize it but by being an expat spouse or trailing partner, you’ve proved that you already possess them all! Once you read this post, you will have no more reason to doubt your abilities.

5 Soft Skills Essential to Succeed in the New Economy

1/ Adaptability

This one is a no-brainer.

In today’s fast-changing world, adaptability is crucial to be able to thrive. It’s valid for a person or for an organization. Either you stay relevant and you’re successful or you become obsolete and you headed straight to failure. Adaptability nurtures growth and prevents stagnation.

Agility, flexibility, and the aptitude to think outside the box as a creative problem solver are all key characteristics of an expat spouse. You are not stuck in a rigid mentality and therefore already have a competitive advantage for the new economy.

You have proven that you were willing to accept change and adopt new environments and situations. It not only shows that you have the emotional tolerance and mental fortitude to accept uncertainty but that you’re also capable to embrace it.

You can also let go what you once believed was right and change your mind to adopt a “new right relevant to your current situation and environment. Most people struggle with this. They believe what had been working in the past in one place can be replicated without questioning and will be successful again somewhere else. It’s not true anymore.

Adaptable mentalities don’t get stuck on one solution, they find many options to solve a problem and always have different contingency plans for when plan A doesn’t work. How would you thrive in a foreign environment without adaptability when there is no one-size fits all solution. Well, most probably, you wouldn’t.

Adaptable people don’t whine, they’re proactive to absorb, understand and move on. You don’t fight what you can’t change. You can make clear decisions (even when they’re as difficult such as leaving your career to support your partner’s) and accept uncomfortable situations. You’re accountable not only for your actions but also for those of your closest team, your family.

Don’t let anyone ever question your ability to take risks, your flexibility or agility. There is nobody better positioned than you to demonstrate adaptability.

2/ Cultural Competence

Does this one sound familiar?


Cultural competence is the ability to interact effectively and ethically with people of different cultures, origins, age, gender.

It doesn’t mean you need to learn the local language, linguistics is just one aspect of it. But it requires you acknowledge and understand how and why locals are different from you.

It is not an easy process to develop cultural competence. It is not an event but a journey as it requires continuous expansion of knowledge and tolerance for ambiguity. No one has all the answers but high tolerance allows individuals to look for information to be able to understand rather than information that support their beliefs. It evolves over time but being exposed to foreign and unfamiliar environments does accelerate and extend it.

Generally, it implies understanding that others might have a different idea or approach from what you’re used to, accepting the host culture for what it is and not what you wish it were, being happy to understand and live within that different culture.

Isn’t this what you actually experience in your everyday life?

3/ Empathy

Oh, that’s a big one and obviously my favorite. It is considered as the softest of the soft skills. Some may even view it as a weakness.

It is in my opinion, quite the opposite, a strength that’s clearly missing in the corporate world.
Empathy is defined by Merriam-Webster dictionary as the feeling that you understand and share another person’s experiences and emotions: the ability to share someone else’s feelings. Individuals that employ empathy anticipate the needs of others.

While many people might assume that an empath has a business disadvantage, they actually do have an edge. They are good listeners and trust their gut feelings about people and situations.
Empaths make for natural entrepreneurs by being able to closely relate to their customer needs and reach more people on a deep level. They easily establish rapport which leads to more opportunities and success.
Traditionally, leaders in businesses, organizations and in politics, are expected to be strategic and rational, focused on results. That’s what they are taught. Most lead with their heads and not with their hearts. Surprisingly, recent research calls out for a different style of leadership. There is now evidence that kindness, empathy, and compassion are linked to greater business success and those who exhibit those traits seem to reap the benefits, especially in the form of increased competitive advantage.

Hello, trailing spouse! By accepting to support your partner’s career and leaving yours behind, you have already exhibited this quality. This is without mentioning accepting in a foreign environment and experiencing diversity in your daily life. You wouldn’t be able to do it without empathy, you’re a natural!

4/ Intellectual Curiosity

There is no adaptability without curiosity. Adaptable people are curious, inquisitive and lifelong learners because curiosity is the essence of growth.

Intellectually curious want to know how and why the world works the way it does. They are not afraid of new ideas and experiences. They challenge themselves and others regardless of what they know or don’t know, they just want to understand.

If you’re not willing to listen to others’ points of view then you’ll be limited in your thinking, which means you’ll also be limited in your adaptability. Adaptable people open their minds. They know that becoming isolated in their thinking assuming they know everything means stagnation and leads to failure. They also are capable of stepping out of their comfort zone to experiment new things.

Intellectual curiosity is, therefore, the strong desire to learn without constraint to enhance our ability to manage complexity. We know that being smart is not enough.

“We keep moving forward, opening new doors and doing new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths” – Walt Disney

You wouldn’t be here without curiosity! Keep reading…

5/ 360 degrees thinking

360 degrees thinking is the ultimate trait because it combines all the other characteristics, covers the ability to examine a situation from different perspectives and combine all elements to solve a problem.

It encompasses:

Hindsight which is the ability to reflect and understand experiences and life circumstances. It allows you to learn from your past mistakes and successes to improve your decisions and impact the future.

Insight which helps to make sense of current events and surroundings for an accurate understanding of things, people and events. It requires being curious and inquisitive in the moment to pinpoint cause and effect relationships

Foresight which is the ability to predict and hypothesize on future scenarios and different course of actions. imagine how will things develop or turn out. It is the ability to plan ahead, gather required resources and address potential threat.

According to research conducted by Ernie Wilson, Dean of the Annenberg School of Communication & Journalism at the University of Southern California, these individuals who excel in soft skills are at an advantage in the new economy; he calls these individuals “Third Space Thinkers.”

Don’t let these special abilities go to waste and use them to your advantage. If you can’t get a job now, understand how lucky you are to be in the best position ever to create it for yourself. Soft skills are now a prerequisite for success.

Can’t find a Job, Create it!

Your partner is following his career path and is doing well at work after accepting an assignment abroad. You’ve agreed to move with your family to support him. You have gone through the relocation process and settled in your new home away from home and you’re very proud of his choice.

What’s in there for you?

While your mate learns new skills and climbs the career ladder, you stagnate, wondering what you could achieve if you had been given the opportunity?

You’ve sent off countless job applications, tried to follow all the bits of advice, volunteered in many organizations, networked with no success. Despite your experience and qualifications, you’re described as the “expat spouse” or “trailing partner”.

How annoying is it to be repeatedly asked: “What does your husband do?” as if you were invisible.

It is easy to feel defeated and not see through the clutter of useless solutions found in expat blogs. They all do the same, repeat and repeat the common pieces of advice on how to find a job (that we know won’t work) or create a business (in a country where you won’t stay forever).

The time for excuses is over my friends. If you can’t find a job, create it.

Feeling nervous and hesitant about your qualifications or abilities to make that leap? Do you need a little boost in self-esteem?

Succeeding through adversity

That’s a is a huge confidence booster!

Let me tell you something, you’re not the only one in this situation and there is no reason to compromise your career so your soulmate can flourish. By following your partner, your life has already changed forever. Why don’t you change it for the better?

It’s none of your fault when traditional businesses don’t yet recognize the value of your experiences and abilities. Being an expat partner, you demonstrate a kind of broad-based, wide-open, imaginative, collaborative and adaptive thinking that is rare.

Their loss, your gain

With many interests and abilities, you’re well equipped to adapt and change your ideas about your career path and even your day-to-day life. More and more in the years ahead, you will constantly have to find new ways to stay relevant in the job market. If you intend to return to work after your foreign assignment, it is crucial that you remain current and competitive.

When you think of your work not as a single, stable activity, with a name like “finance manager” or “nurse” but as the set of interests, passions, and activities that underlies and animates your role, you begin to see your portfolio of skills and abilities.

Work on your portfolio, this way, you’ll still have a foundation to draw on in order to do something different.

You will need to learn something new. This is now more essential than ever, not only for surviving but thriving in the new economy. Technology is changing so quickly that it’s easy to get left behind.

Think of your own core skill set. Chances are you can use your existing knowledge base as a jumping-off point for building new capabilities. You need to ask yourself—what do you secretly want to do? Then do it.

Your time as an expat partner is a break-point in your career, use it to your advantage.

Reinvent yourself

The world is always changing, and so are you. It’s OK if sometimes you are bored, can’t commit to things because you know you’ll be leaving one day, don’t know what the future will bring or when you’ll return home.

Stay flexible and try to not waste your time.

By taking action and using those amazing skills you already have, you can turn your challenges into great opportunities and build a portable career to change your life forever. You can find a fit between your current situation, your skills and talents and a mobile global future.

You’ll gain both practical experience and valuable knowledge. You will regain your professional and personal identity immediately. You will fill that gap in your resume. You won’t be tied to your current local environment.

Build your portable career now so you won’t have to start from scratch next time you move back home or to another location.

You have nothing to lose and so much to gain!

Tell us what you’re really thinking, what prevents you from taking action, what stops your progress in taking charge of your own career. Comment in the section below.

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