Get Clear in These Four Areas before Coaching Across Cultures

January 31, 2017 Terry Watkins

Collage Diverse Faces Group People ConceptAs I regularly partner with company sponsors, clients, and coaches from various cultures, I’ve realized that people from different country cultures and even organizational cultures can have different expectations of coaching.

A client’s belief system and cultural perspective greatly impacts how they not only interact with their coach but also achieve goals. As a result, I have personally expanded my perspective, identified potential biases, and adjusted my coaching style to incorporate a range of cultural dimensions.

Here are four key points to keep in mind when coaching across cultures.

  1. Definition of coaching. Many clients believe coaching is the same as consulting or mentoring—but there are distinct differences. It is important to begin with a clear mutual understanding of what coaching is and what the client can expect from the partnership.
  1. Country orientation. Recognize that the tendency for a client to think, feel, and act certain ways is innate and based on their cultural background. This includes communication, perception of self and others in roles, problem solving, and control.
  1. Hierarchical vs. egalitarian culture. Clients with hierarchical views may see themselves as subordinate to higher level leaders and therefore believe communication comes from the top and is not to be challenged. Clients with egalitarian perceptions view employees and leaders as equals and are more likely to freely state their opinions and challenge top leaders.
  1. Language. When coaching in a language other than the client’s local language, it is important to be aware of subtleties that can cause misunderstanding. Adjusting the pace of speaking to allow a client to translate and understand will increase the effectiveness of the coaching.

As the coaching profession continues its expansion worldwide, it is more and more imperative for coaches to incorporate intercultural dimensions into their practice to be effective with clients.

Coaches can increase a successful coaching experience by recognizing their existing cultural biases and belief systems and adapting based on the situation. For example, if a client is inclined to value indirect language and harmony in their workplace, the role of the coach is to support the client in identifying when to adapt and lean toward a different, more direct style while maintaining authenticity. It is about not only embracing cultural diversity but also leveraging it.

Coaches and managers: how are you embracing and leveraging diversity?


About the Author

Terry Watkins

Terry Watkins is a Senior Coach for The Ken Blanchard Companies. She is a frequent contributor to Blanchard’s LeaderChat blog. Terry received her Certified Professional Career Coach certification from The Coaches Training Institute and her MBA with an emphasis in Leadership from Grand Canyon University.

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