Thinking about coaching and culture

Written by Matt Somers on . Posted in Coaching Skills for Managers

Gallwey & Whitmore. The founders of modern coaching?

Gallwey & Whitmore. The founders of modern coaching?

Much modern business coaching has its roots in the work of Tim Gallwey in the US and Sir John Whitmore here in the UK. Inevitably this leads to an ‘anglo’ bias in some of the concepts and techniques. Now this is not necessarily a big problem – human beings are human beings after all, but coaching in say The Middle East, Asia or more eastern parts of Europe does require us to consider different communication styles and other elements of culture.

Establishing a level of trust and rapport is key to all coaching and this means we have to show respect and acceptance, in a non-judgmental way. It is vitally important to listen carefully, speak more slowly and choose words with care if English is not the first language of the coachee. It is always a useful tip to check that was was said was understood and not just assume that this is the case.

Some cultures are much more deferential to the boss-subordinate relationship than is the case these days in the West. This can lead to a reluctance to open up to the boss, admit mistakes or forewarn of problems. This might require a more directive style of coaching to begin with but with an intention to move to a less directive, more person-centred style as soon as possible. The key coaching principles of Awareness, Responsibility and Trust are global and all peoples appear to warm to the coaching approach once it is clear that our intentions are clear and sincere.

In fact, it’s my view that placing the coachee at the heart of the coaching relationship, really listening and working from their agenda transcends cultural boundaries and frees the manager from having to second-guess many of these considerations.

When we talk about culture and how if effects the coaching relationship we need to realise that it is not just a matter of considering nationality, race or religion. We also need take into account the cultures people may have become used to in previous employment, in education or in the home. More importantly perhaps, we need to think about the prevailing culture in our own organisations if coaching has not been the norm.

There are many dimensions to culture and we need to consider, amongst others:

Directness Will the coaching approach work every time or will people sometimes prefer some straightforward feedback?

Hierarchy How do we position the coaching relationship in the normal ‘pecking order’ ?

Consensus What have people been used to and how much scope is there to move up and down the communication spectrum?

Individualism Do we apply coaching at the level of the team or the individual?

Of course, there are no right or wrong answers to these questions. They are simply views that we need to think about in order to give coaching its most solid platform.

I have written more widely in this and once produced a short paper called “How to Build a Coaching Culture”. Leave a comment if you’d like a copy.

About 

Matt Somers is the UK’s leading trainer of managers as coaches. His coaching skills training programmes, books, articles and seminars have helped thousands of managers achieve outstanding results through their people.

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Comments (2)

  • Amanda Rowan Foxall

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    This is an interesting article on coaching and culture, I have been living in Spain for almost a year now and have found some interesting similarities and also some startling differences, I would agree Matt that no assumptions can be made, and whilst coaching has universal benefits it needs to be tailored to not only fit with the relevant culture but also offer appropriate challenges to that culture to facilitate change if that is what is needed for success.

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  • Mandy Filson

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    Great post Matt – I think it can also apply to employees within the same culture that have different approaches to the relationship with their manager, perhaps coming from different corporate cultures. Would be interested to read more in your paper. Thanks.

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