Christian Life Coaching Bookstore

Coaching With Their Language by Melissa Chaplin

Sep 23rd, 2009 | By | Category: Missions Coaching - Guest Posts

melissachaplinWhen coaching cross culturally, I have learned to never underestimate the value of fully understanding and using the language of the client. This of course, is an ICF Core Competency – “Active Listening: the ability to focus completely on what the client is saying and is not saying, to understand the meaning of what is said in the context of the client’s desires, and to support client self-expression.” It also plays out in the first tenet of “Powerful Questioning: asks questions that reflect active listening and an understanding of the client’s perspective.

When coaching a person in the USA, this means picking up on the nuances in their speech and their colloquialisms. Growing up in the Midwest, “home” is when I hear people say “uff dah.” I pity those of you who do not fully know the extent of that expression. Now living in the South, I am learning to say “tags” instead of “license plates” and “I’m fixin to” instead of “I am planning to” and “katty-corner” instead of “kitty-corner.” When I coach a client in the USA, I pay attention to their geographical and cultural history. I listen to the words they use and how they describe things. During a coaching call, in the margin of my note pad, I’ll write down some of their phrases and begin to incorporate them into our coaching conversations.

The same is true for English speakers of other cultures around the world. Although not perfect, I try to incorporate their language into mine and bridge the gap. I will start referring to “holiday” instead of “vacation” and “flats” instead of “apartments.”

At times, however, I have little idea what a phrase means to the person. Instead of ‘stepping over it’ and just assuming that I understand the meaning from context, I ask them to explain the word or phrase. Doing so requires a bit of humility (recognizing I am not as world-language savvy as I would like to be), and also wisdom so that my asking for an explanation adds to the coaching conversation instead of detracts. Often I found that as people explained a phrase they used, it not only helped me understand them better, but it also gave them a chance to step back and see their situation with greater clarity.  Overall, learning and appropriately using the words and phrases of our clients is a very simple thing that can go a long way in building rapport and helping our clients move forward.


Melissa Chaplin is thankful to serve as a Certified Life Coach for Leadership Development International and Advance Global Coaching.


Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.