One of the most fundamental shifts happening in coaching as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic has been the move from face to face to online coaching as the norm for many. A global survey of coaches by the International Coaching Federation in 2020 (COVID-19 and the Coaching Industry) reported a sharp decrease in coaching in person - 80% of respondents - with 74% of coaches increasing their use of Zoom, Teams and other online platforms. One of the benefits of this move away from face to face has been the elimination of barriers to coaching across borders. Where previously coaches may have had more limited scope to coach outside of the country they live in, now the opportunity to coach globally presents itself – the world has become a smaller place. At MRA we have had the opportunity to coach individuals and teams across the globe from Malaysia to South Africa to Poland to Brazil - a breadth of cultures we could only have dreamt about prior to 2020 but now a regular part of the reach our programmes have and the work we do. The MRA team have now worked with clients in over 60 countries, all of whom are unique in their understanding and expectations of Professional Coaching and it’s positive impact.
As we broaden our reach, we have been very conscious and deliberate in reflecting on what we need to be aware of when working with teams and people from outside the UK and Europe – the opportunities are immense, but what challenge does it present as a coach?
As part of our commitment to our clients, and to ensure that we integrate a clear understanding of how our conscious and unconscious biases can impact our coaching practice, we have been very clear on the need to educate ourselves, challenge assumptions and seek to understand our biases. Maintaining this heightened sense of self-awareness is core to how we work with clients and it’s what we seek to enable in them. It’s also critical, therefore, for ourselves as coaches to keep connected with our sense of self, to be consciously aware of the assumptions we make and what we are bringing to the coaching space, and to educate ourselves ahead of working with clients from outside the UK.
Richard D Lewis, an expert on cross cultural and language training and the author of ‘When Cultures Collide - Managing Successfully Across Cultures’ speaks of the importance of considering cross cultural difference in managing any company in today’s global world. As coaches we know that people bring context and perspectives that are unique to them, often driven by personal values, innate preferences, and life experiences. Richard Lewis talks about how people from different cultures view the world from different vantage points, resulting in different behaviours, with cultural differences stemming from national characteristics, regional variations and a variety of corporate and family cultures, as well as gender, class, religious beliefs and socioeconomic situations. There is a lot at play even before the coaching relationship begins, and a long time before the success measures for the coaching are even considered.
Cultural identities and how these manifest themselves in behaviours are further explored in Richard D Lewis’ and Kai Hammerich’s ‘Fish Can’t See Water’. In it they explain that despite differing subcultures, the overall core identity of a country generally falls into one of three overarching cultures: “linear-active, multi-active and reactive”
Linear-actives believe in rules, order, laws and logic. They process information directly, prefer facts, figures and details and tend to be less diplomatic than other cultures with order and punctuality often valued, even demanded. Linear-active countries include Australia, Britain, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Germany, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden and the United States
Multi-actives value relationships above all. They’re talkative, emotional and tactile. They may often interrupt, use hand gestures, prefer to communicate face to face, they may procrastinate and miss deadlines. Most of the world’s population – three billion people – belong to a multi-active culture. Most Latin American, Mediterranean and Sub-Saharan African nations are multi-active, including Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Argentina, Italy, Portugal, Spain and Greece
Reactives are good listeners, introverted, deferential and courteous. They avoid confrontation, listen before speaking then slowly form and state opinions. Reactive are less inclined to indulge in small talk, value silence to demonstrate respect and often speak in the third person to avoid confrontation. Most reactive national cultures are Asian, including Japan, China, Korea, Vietnam, Indonesia and Singapore
Of course, these broad cultural identities need to be intertwined with an understanding of the nuances of individuals, the context within which they operate, and their personal and family experiences to really understand and connect with the client, but they are helpful points of reference when working with someone for the first time in a country you are less familiar with. This cultural awareness also provides a good test for any assumptions being made that may be taken into the coaching space and could be detrimental to the ideal mindset of a coach – open mindedness being key. As explored in our recent blog - Championing Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in our Profession – checking our own privilege and assumptions ahead of working with clients is critical, with The ABCD tool of Working with Diversity (Katherine Collins – coach, counsellor and founder of LGBTQ+ coaching service, Out and About) providing a useful starting point. What Assumptions are we making? What Barriers or obstacles might the client be facing? Check your privilege by asking yourself ‘Am I feeling this way because I’m approaching this from a position of privilege?’ Discuss your difference, if appropriate, to understand any fears or doubts the client may have about working with you.
As we continue to work with clients across borders at MRA, and encounter an increasingly diverse range of cultures, we need to remain consciously aware of how we develop the most effective coaching relationships, as well as remaining true to the coaching standards we champion everyday through our professional coaches and the programmes we offer.
If you want to learn more about developing your own or your organisation’s professional coaching capability through our EMCC Level 5 accredited Coaching with Confidence programme, or if you would like to work with one of our Professional Coaches then please contact us