Research Paper By Mun Yee Thang
(Life Coach, MALAYSIA)
This question came to my mind several times as I started my lessons with the ICA. Students on the forum were from all over the world. As I attended classes, I thought of the differing levels of participation and outspokenness among all of us. Initially, I also considered whether the content of the syllabus were more suited for the environment of advanced and developed countries, in particular from the west, that gave more room to the embracing of individualistic values. This may be a departure from eastern traditions and cultural norms.
I was afraid that I would be encouraging an individual to chase her passion to the other end of the world instead of building financial and economic security for her home. I troubled thinking I was going to be indirectly responsible for a young adult client being in defiance of his parents’ wishes in order that he may live a meaningful life as he defined it.
I was worried that as an Asian, there were values ingrained in me that would not be understood by other than another like me, an Asian. And therefore, how could I apply what I was learning?
The syllabus of the ICA doesn’t allow a student to spend too much time pondering, as doing is where the learning happens. As I started coaching and being a client, getting more familiar with the coaching space, this thinking started to dispel naturally.
What I found was this:
The coach and the client may come from separate polar ends of the world as far as culture, and in so far as that influences their values, is concerned. But we soon realise that is a non-issue when one of the core competencies we develop as coaches centre on effective communication. We experience the value of the coaching space for the client. This space has room only for one reality, the client’s. Here, the client may lay bare his values, his underlying beliefs and consider what has served or blocked him in moving forward.
And the coach has no place in this space other than to hold it open for the client’s exploration. The coach’s own values and underlying beliefs has been left outside the coaching space so that his judgments are not brought in. There is no room for the coach’s agenda. It is important only to know and understand what is important for the client as the client considers it himself, and possibly for the first time.
The role of the coach is to listen actively and as a result ask powerful questions that help the client to achieve a level of realisation or a shift that serves him.
I go on to look at my coaches and/or clients as case studies to see the similarities and differences between them and how I worked with them. The table below is a snapshot of my coaching/client experience whilst as an ICA student:
|Location (client / coach number)||Australia (1)|
|Theme of cases||Personal / family relationships|
|Work and career|
As culturally different as we may be, that was certainly not a barrier to communication. Bar the sometimes unreliable technology that put us in contact (not), we held a respect for the other’s space in trying to listen and understand. It was more that we were in awe, full of wonder of our differences and finding things in common. We compared our celebrations and what was on the streets outside our homes. We inquired about the noises we heard in the background, of life going on as we spoke.
Certainly, when I worked with the individuals from my own home country, I did note the following:
- The apprehension of the first meeting was easier to overcome
- We bonded over topics that were locally themed
- We shared local slangs and understood cultural innuendos
In other words, we quickly established a rapport based on common ground, different though we were as individuals.
Whereas, when I worked with individuals outside my home country, it was the curiosity over our differences that opened up opportunities for building a warm rapport.
Thus, our differences and similarities both proved to be interesting talking points, giving a valuable starting toe-hold to further build on, enhancing communication .
When it came to deciding on the theme of the coaching session, I noted similar themes arise from each client:
|Personal / family relationships||Seeking approval|
|Letting go of the need for control|
|Dealing with trust and disappointment|
|Feeling the need to advise|
|Work and career||Action plans, feeling overwhelmed|
|Concerns over slackening in delivery|
|Uncertainties in priorities, seeking clarity|
|Fluctuating motivation levels|
|Self-doubt in own abilities|
|Health and diet||Self-sabotaging behaviour|
It was heartening to note that as individuals, we all tended to strive for similar things. We faced familiar challenges and frustrations. We have shared hopes and fears. It is the context that these arise in which is different for each individual.
And as coach, we learn to be sensitive and present in each context for the client. It is not our cultural differences that impede this ability. Real impediments start with our inability to practise active listening. Aggressively adopting all the tools we read in our modules doesn’t make us better coaches without this key competency.
The safe space
We each have our own defined safe space, finding this variously in the garden, the kitchen and on the yoga mat. We spoke of finding space where quiet time could be had. The form may appear different but what we sought and found was similar, as follows:
- Freedom to make mistakes and try again
- Growth and strength
- Suspension of judgment
- Release and recharge
For sure, the setting and details of each case is unique, but I was seeing that as different and far apart as we are culturally, as individuals, we worked for similar themes in life. The nature of our challenges were from the same fabric of life, with all its inconsistencies and diversity. We all seek balance and meaning in our existence. Perhaps we do it differently but we inherently seek alignment and harmony as we make sense of our environment.
And once I understood this is a universal theme, it was clearer to me everyone’s right to existence, their own individuality in this world. Our right to our own journey.