Coaching in Another Language: The Impact on Core Competencies - International Coaching Federation
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Coaching in Another Language: The Impact on Core Competencies

Posted by Katerina Kanelidou, PCC | February 1, 2018 | Comments (10)

Can coaching in another language positively impact a coach’s performance?

Twice a week I mentor coaches in a multicultural environment. Some coaches may think that coaching in a non-native language could be a barrier to effective communication and their performance, but my own experience taught me that coaching in a foreign language gives me opportunities that I probably wouldn’t have if I only coached in my native language.

A survey conducted in January of 2017 proved this assumption to be correct. The first part of the survey consisted of a questionnaire for coaches who coach or have coached in a non-native language. The results showed a considerable impact on the Core Competencies. This impact, as it was estimated by the replies of the coaches, fluctuated between 41 and 80 percent.

Here are some of these areas of impact:

Establishing the Coaching Agreement (50-percent positive impact)

There is a need to be absolutely clear. We assume less of the client’s understanding, we pay more attention to the terms that we use, and we more often check understanding with the client. As a result, there is ease in alignment, more accurately regulated expectations and a clear and memorable agreement.

Establishing Trust and Intimacy (52 percent)

The clarity and the attention given when creating the coaching agreement already has an impact on trust. Additionally, the following has been observed:

  • Deeper curiosity
  • Respect for diversity
  • Establishment of rapport not only with words, but also with tone of voice and all additional nonverbal cues

The above can lead to a connection at a deeper level, a stronger sense of intimacy and a safe space where clients open up faster.

Coaching Presence (63 percent)

Coaches reported that they are more mindful, alert, focused, attentive, engaged and concentrated. There is an “extra effort” on the coach’s part. They are more open to not knowing and better tapped into their intuition. Opportunities here are for better connection and less danger of falling into routine.

Active Listening (80 percent)

Active listening tools are more consciously applied; coaches ask more and assess less. They listen at more levels (emotions, energy, beliefs, etc.); they listen for intent rather than rely on assumptions; and they try to listen and understand in depth.

As a result, clarification is swifter and easier. There is more focus from the coach, and less assumptions, prejudice and judgment.

Powerful Questioning (63 percent)

The results here showed that questions are cleaner, simpler and more precise; they are to the point and cut-through. As the coach is mindful of the cultural diversity, the questions challenge the client’s beliefs and frames of reference in a curious and respectful way.

Direct Communication (65 percent)

The language used is thoughtfully selected, as coaches have increased awareness of the impact of words and use more direct vocabulary.

Coaches step out of cultural codes and bring more objectivity. They talk less and give more space to the client, allowing communication to flow.

An observation was “Not to fool around even in the native language,” which shows an impact that expands beyond the sessions in the foreign language.

Creating Awareness (59 percent)

The opportunity here is about broader awareness. Some reasons are:

  • Coaches get out of the way more, allowing the client the space for awareness to emerge
  • As the reflection is more intense in search of precise expression, we think more
  • Cultural diversity helps us see things from different points of view
  • The attention to nonverbal communication and deep listening makes it easy to detect incongruence

Designing Actions (49 percent)

With the awareness that Words create worlds,” things are articulated carefully when designing actions. There is more clarity in checking different options, choosing steps and finding the client’s own way. Simpler, bolder and straightforward actions have been noticed.

Planning and Goal Setting (43 percent)

As both coach and client tend to be precise, the goals are clearly defined and explored. Coaches facilitate the process and the understanding of it with intuition and simple language. Cultural awareness and sensitivity are present when exploring and creating a plan.

Managing Progress and Accountability (41 percent)

The positive impact here is attributed to simpler lists and less excuses; clarity on accountability (which is easier to express in a foreign language); and higher intuition.

Coaching happens in conversations. The language that we use in these conversations matters, and we must indeed be bilingual: speak our language and the language of our client. But what we need to remember is that this language is not defined or restricted by any native language. Coaching in different languages can actually expand our competencies as we noticed above. In the words of a survey participant, “As we build trust, our shared human experience becomes more apparent to both parties and the differences become a source of interest. And, through one another, we learn more about ourselves.”


katrina kanelidou headshot

Katerina Kanelidou, PCC

Katerina Kanelidou, PCC, has over 20 years’ experience as a coach, trainer, mentor, educator and therapist. Based in Athens, Greece, she works with leaders from around the world supporting them to overcome their challenges and thrive even in the most adverse environments. She is the founder of SixStepsAhead, a global faculty member of the International Coach Academy and a steering committee member for the CoachActivism program. Connect with Katerina on Twitter @KatKanelidou.

The views and opinions expressed in guest posts featured on this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of the International Coach Federation (ICF). The publication of a guest post on the ICF Blog does not equate to an ICF endorsement or guarantee of the products or services provided by the author.

Comments (10)

  1. Great article! I coach in three languages, including my native one, and am acutely aware of the impact of my words and the value of precision in helping my clients achieve their goals.

  2. Lise Lewis says:

    Thank you for sharing Katerina; great insights into multi-lingual coaching. Also strong messages about self awareness and good practice coaching that are transferrable to working in a native language

  3. Very good insights, Thank you for posting these results, Katerina. In my experience as alanguage teacher, trainer and language coach, it is essential to heighten awareness of clients to understand how they perceive language usage in the target language. The coaching may actually start in the native tongue and as trust and confidence builds, there will be a point at which the client is willing to move out of the comfort zone and switch to the target language, English. This is particularly important with clients facing blocks and barriers in the target language and it is the issue to be coached. Some clients are fine to be coached in the target language from the start.

    • Katerina Kanelidou says:

      Thanks for sharing your experience Gabriella. As a language coach, you have useful insights on this matter.
      Check the second article, about the coachee, this time.

  4. says:

    Dear Katerina,

    Great that you have surveyed this important issue. My research paper (Salomaa, R: Expatriate coaching: factors impacting coaching success in Journal of Global Mobility: The Home of Expatriate Management Research, Volume: 3 Issue: 3, 2015) showed that coaching language impacts coaching success in various ways. However, the coachees would have preferred their native language although it was not always possible in the countries they were located in. Coaching in another language has both bias and benefits. The academic research on coaching language is so far non-existing and it should be further studied!
    Kind greetings fromFinland,

    Raija Salomaa, PhD, PCC

  5. Paula Cook says:

    Thank you so much for the research. It is extremely reassuring. As a relatively new coach, I am frequently questioning whether I am doing a good enough job and even more so when I am not working in my native language. What you say makes sense and is a good reminder that simply not being complacent about using language or interpreting what a person says probably improves one’s coaching enormously. I found it a very helpful article to remind myself to just slow down and focus on coaching presence, rather than get caught up in whether my powerful questions are also grammatically correct 🙂

    • Katerina Kanelidou says:

      Very insightful, Paula.
      Glad that my article was reassuring. Feel free to check the second article about the benefits for the coachee. It will be even more reassuring 😉

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