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Coaching and Culture, by Keith E. Webb

Apr 4th, 2009 | By | Category: Missions Coaching - Guest Posts

Does culture effect coaching? You bet it does!

I’ve noticed that most coaching training originated from cultures that could be described as individualistic and egalitarian – countries like Australia, Britain, and the United States.

However, much of the world is group oriented and hierarchical in their cultural ways of behaving. The peoples of Arab-speaking countries, China, Greece, Indonesia, India, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Singapore, Turkey, West Africa, in fact, the majority of the world’s population follow these cultural tendencies .

Isn’t globalization decreasing cultural differences? Amazingly, just the opposite. One researcher found that “managers employed by the multinational [are] maintaining and even strengthening their cultural differences,” rather than blending into one common culture.

Coaches must be aware of their own cultural perspective, and the perspective of their client.

Coaches from an individualist, egalitarian cultural setting may be blind to the complex social contexts, obligations, and politics of their client’s situation. Yet, because of the client’s respect for the coach, they may assume that the coach is aware of all those things, trust that the coach knows what he or she is doing, and choose a course of action that is culturally inappropriate.

Coaching to the majority of the world’s people:

1. The Coach-Client Relationship

Your role will be filtered through your client’s cultural grid, which is, to view your relationship vertically not horizontally. Egalitarian, come-along-side helping roles are quite foreign and often not even desired. Your client will view you as an expert with a higher status than himself or herself. Your client may behave accordingly by deferring to you and creating dependence on you.

  • Keep asking questions.
  • Don’t give advice.
  • Praise your client’s ideas and coach them to improve them.
  • Point out that your client has done the work: thinking up ideas, making a plan, deciding a course of action, and doing it.

2. Setting Goals and Raising Awareness

You do not coach an individual in isolation. Rather, you coach a person highly integrated into one or more social groups which value and reward loyalty as a sign of good character. Your client’s success depends on how well he or she fits with the group.

  • Explore goals, expectations, limitations of their social setting.
  • Work towards cooperation and consensus with the group.
  • Patience is a virtue.

3. Designing Actions

Your client will want to please you and do any action steps they think you want them to do, even if you didn’t ask them to. Explore the cause and effect relationship of an proposed action step. This will help you to avoid “coach pleasing” and understand the relevance of the action step.

  • Ask, “How will doing this action step move you forward?”
  • Ask, “What outcome would you hope to see by doing this action step?”

How About You?

  • How mindful are you of the impact of culture on your coaching?
  • In what ways do you need to adjust your coaching methods to fit your client’s culture?
  • Where could you look to find more help coaching across cultures?

Dr. Keith E. Webb is a cross-cultural leadership coach helping organizations, teams, and individuals multiply their cross-cultural impact. Keith has lived in Asia for 20 years. He developed a 60-hour Core Coaching Skills Certificate Program for pioneering leaders.



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