Coaching Cross-Culturally

By: Keith Webb

Does culture affect 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.

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

Coaches from individualist, egalitarian cultural settings 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 often to view your relationship vertically not horizontally. Egalitarian, come-along-side helping roles are quite foreign and frankly not desired. Your client most likely 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. What to do:

• Keep asking questions. Don’t give advice.

• Praise you client’s ideas and coach them to improve those ideas.

• Point out that your client has done the work: creating ideas, making a plan, deciding a course of action, and doing it.

2. Setting Goals and Raising Awareness

You do not coach individuals in isolation from their community. Rather, you coach a person highly integrated into one or more social groups which often will 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. How to coach:

• Explore goals, expectations, limitations of the groups in their social setting.

• Work towards cooperation and consensus with the group.

• Patience is a virtue.

3. Designing Actions

Your clients may want to please you and do any action step 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” client behavior and help them understand the relevance of the action step. How to coach:

• 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 relationships?

• In what ways do you need to adjust to provide better coaching to your cross-cultural clients?


This article is provided courtesy of Lily Casteel of Support Raising Solutions, a Missio Nexus member.  Member organizations can provide content to the Missio Nexus website. See how by clicking here.

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