Cross-Cultural Coaching

By Published On: December 13th, 2021Categories: All, Leadership, Self-development

Coaching is an effective tool for cross-cultural training because it raises self-awareness and provokes curiosity.

So, how does it work?

First, a few words about coaching. The term coaching has become a buzzword used to mean many different things. Let’s define coaching as helping someone with a challenge by stimulating their creativity through asking questions. Coaching is not advice-giving or problem-solving; that’s consulting. It’s not diagnosing or treating a person’s mental state; that’s psychiatry. It’s not about digging into the past to explain current behaviors; that’s psychology. The coaching client is creative, resourceful, and whole. That means that you as the coachee are not “broken” and do not need to be fixed. You are fully capable of devising solutions for yourself and are the very best person to do so!

What is your culture?

To understand other cultures, you have to understand your own culture. Learn how culture shapes your mindset and therefore influences your behavior. Cross-cultural training courses often start with an exercise that places participants on any number of cultural values scales. Before you can talk about why it is different in another culture, you must understand what your own culture is. This self-awareness is the basis of effective cross-cultural training.

Coaching helps you determine goals and then discover your best path to reach them by understanding yourself. Before determining the first step to a goal, you must know where you stand currently. Learning about yourself also reveals where you may be sabotaging yourself or experiencing self-imposed roadblocks.

But learning about your culture only explains part of your mindset and behavior. You have your own unique life experiences that shape you, too. I may be able to generalize about cultures once I understand the values. But I will likely be left with a lot of questions about why I am NOT like my culture.

Here is where the journey of self-discovery that comes with coaching can be very helpful.

Being curious

One of the differences between a successful cross-cultural experience and “mere survival” is curiosity. To gain an appreciation (or tolerance) for the differences encountered in a foreign culture, you must be curious about why things are the way they are. People who thrive in new cultures consistently opt to be curious about differences, instead of judging them.

Arguably the most important skill of a coach is that of curiosity. It is the coach’s job to be curious about you as the coachee, your experiences, and your responses to those experiences. This curiosity naturally spawns powerful questions that get you to think about yourself and your challenges in a different way.

Your coach’s curiosity is contagious and he or she regularly asks powerful questions about you, you will start posing similar questions about yourself, and your surroundings. This kind of curiosity is a hallmark of the “Growth Mindset” coined by Carol Dweck. People with a growth mindset (as opposed to fixed mindset) tend to gravitate to coaching. But coaching also helps create a growth mindset.

As you begin to ponder the powerful questions about who you are and why you think the way you do, you start to see new solutions to your challenges.

So as both the coach and coachee raise their curiosity about the new culture and the coachee’s reaction to it, the challenges become clearer. Seeing challenges helps to overcome them. You and your coach pull apart each challenge and create actions to tackle them. You not only find ways to overcome those challenges but also find solutions to as-yet-unforeseen challenges.

What is Culture Shock?

For those of you who have had international assignments, you know that the first couple of days or weeks may be the “honeymoon” period. Where inconveniences and differences may seem quaint. Then, sooner or later, reality sets in.

This place seems to be designed to make life difficult!!

They couldn’t have invented a worse system if they tried!

The people seem like they are trying to be rude!

You can’t seem to get a straight answer -it just seems to change according to whom you ask the question.

How can they possibly think it’s a good idea to close the stores for THREE hours in the middle of the day?

Do people not understand the concept of a line?

Etc., etc., etc.

Having these kinds of angry realizations about a place and letting them diminish your mood and your well-being is how culture shock manifests itself.

Cultural training? Yes, and…

The purpose of investing in cross-cultural training is to avoid culture shock. It is also to increase the chances that you succeed in a new or multi-cultural environment. Delving into a new culture is sure to present both challenges and rewards.

Some may see cross-cultural training as a “means of survival” when heading off for an international assignment. Yes, it will help you survive, but wouldn’t it be even better if you did more than survive? If you were happy? If you thrived? If you were much better off for having had the experience?

Those of you who have had the privilege of getting even a minimum of cross-cultural training will luckily be somewhat more prepared for this culture shock phase of cultural adaptation – but that does not mean you are immune. It is the unexpected things that hit hardest. You may benefit from having a second round of cross-cultural training about 3-6 months after arrival.

Finally, after months or years, you are accustomed to the very things which used to drive you mad. New annoying things can always pop up, but once you are accustomed, they don’t seem to have the same power over you as they once had. It seems that it is at this point that people choose one of three paths:

  1. They have a growing affection for the place and choose to stay, or if they are on a time-limited assignment, choose to immerse themselves as completely as possible in the culture and learn as much about it as possible. These people tend to seek out friendships with locals and adapt by engaging in new habits learned from the culture. They remain curious about differences and continue learning.
  2. They get used to the things that they dislike about their new surroundings, but never quite give up complaining about them. They also never really put roots down because they have a deep-seated belief that they will eventually go back home or go somewhere better. (even if they never end up leaving!)
  3. Muddling through. These are the people who never quite “forgive” the new land for causing them so much heartache in the first part of their stay and therefore seek to create a life that is as similar to the rituals of home as possible therefore adapting as little as possible.

Those who take the first path will have a much richer, happier experience.

So, what does it take to find the first path and have a successful intercultural experience? Knowledge is power, so without a doubt, a pre-departure course that acquaints you with the traditions, habits, etiquette, language, religion, and history of the culture helps you make sense of your new surroundings. And it may not equip you fully for the smaller nuances of the new culture that rub you the wrong way or make you feel homesick.

Sometimes it takes a fresh perspective to see how those theories are playing out in your real life and causing you anxiety.

That is where coaching can come in. Your coach will help you explore the things that drive you crazy and what it is about you that makes them bother you.



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