Coaching Across Cultures
With the proliferation of the Internet, smartphones and social media, the borders of the world are collapsing. We are reaching out to a lot more cultures and sometimes, we meet people from backgrounds that we never expected to encounter. As a coach, it is important to prepare yourself for this inevitability. It’s human to hold certain assumptions about cultures different from our own. Every person has a different context that has been shaped in part by his or her political, social and economic background.
Some of my clients from India, for example, grew up in rural communities but, by furthering their education, obtained positions in “modern” industries, such as the IT sector. My clients from China are experiencing the effects of living in a nation that modernized recently and rapidly; as a result, they are always looking for opportunities to find and leverage a trend in order to stand out, be different and be heard.
Many of my clients from the United States evince the “Declaration of Independence” mentality: They know that they are in pursuit of their own happiness, and they really go after that. Sometimes in a coaching engagement, these different contexts can clash. I owe everything I know about cross-cultural coaching to all my clients who are from different cultural backgrounds, who gave me an opportunity to work with them. They educated me on how they would like to be coached.
Understanding a client’s cultural context is necessary. However, when you coach a client from a different cultural background than your own, it’s essential to remember that he is not his culture. I’ve yet to meet a client who fits neatly into a single box, or who would want to be boxed in. You have to find out how your client’s culture affects him and discover how much and which parts of his culture represents how he acts or how he thinks. He is the best person to educate you about this. If you are open to it, you can make this learning process part of the coaching engagement. Ask your client which aspects of his cultural heritage he feels influences him most, which may have the biggest impact on the coaching engagement.
Coaching is about how a person can create a conversation that moves him forward through his challenges, his growths, his inspirations and his projects, such that he can advance personally and professionally. Regardless of cultural background, we all have our needs, we are all trying to grow, we are all trying to find our place in this world. And coaching is the best tool for all sorts of people from all sorts of places to do just that.