Coaching across cultures

We have worked with coachees and coaches from 10 countries across the world. This has challenged our own sense of how we work and also helped us in our work with others who are often part of multi cultural teams. Here are some places to start for yourselves.

Challenging your own perspective and cultural awareness

We need to know and understand our own cultural biases and blind spots that may lead us to make assumptions about others.

Certain factors require particular attention:

1. The understanding you have of your own culture, and how this could play out in a coaching relationship will mean that you do not simply react with an inappropriate instinctive response to something the coachee says or does.

How do the following influence how you live your life and act as a coach?

  • Your power and influence
  • Your expertise and experience
  • The education you have had
  • Languages you speak
  • Your networks
  • Your access to resources
  • The freedoms you enjoy – to use skype, write, express views
  • Your gender
  • Your experience of organisations

The more you have thought about these, the more you will be aware of when your own beliefs and assumptions might get in the way during coaching.

2. The willingness of the coachee to explore their coaching issue in relationship to cultural issues (part of a bigger system)

You need to take responsibility for drawing the coachee’s attention to the bigger context in which they operate. Remember that the coachee will always be the expert on their own culture, not you – so it is perfectly ok to ask for information. It is then your role to help the coachee make the connections between what they want from the coaching and how the cultural aspects of their context need to be accommodated. The best coaching is when a person is working things through out loud and you are witnessing that process. In this way the personal narrative extends into learning at a deeper level.

3. Developing a coaching environment where different perspectives from different cultural insights become useful and informative

This is about acknowledging any cultural differences from the beginning and contracting with the coachee to use these as sources of information, rather than judging which set of beliefs is the ‘right’ one. You need to genuinely believe that the coachee would not be better off seeing things from your own cultural perspective, and that you do not have a hidden agenda. Areas to be aware of from a cultural lens: How do they like to receive feedback? How do they express feeling and emotions? What is more important: a task or relationship focus? How is conflict managed? How do they manage others and be managed e.g. directive style or participative; empowering or controlling. How self-aware is the person? How confident is she/he in analysis and valuing what she thinks if what has been taught is the importance of knowledge.