Research Paper By Sandipa Thapa Basnyat
(Career Coach, NEPAL)
You have to maintain a culture of transformation and stay true to your values. -Jeff Weiner
Due to globalization the world is becoming smaller and more accessible. Globalization has greatly affected the coaching industry as well, earlier coaching was just done face to face but now with the advancement of technology any one can coach the client even s/he is thousands of miles away. The technology is continually changing the way in which coaches do business. It has made it easier for coaches to communicate with customers and other coaches worldwide. It has enabled the coaches to conduct business virtually anywhere while still maintaining close contact with their clients.
But the global marketplace offers both opportunities and challenges. Coaching industry must be sensitive to cultural differences, as one style or approach does not fit all. So we have to be very sensitive and understand whether our style of communication is working for our clients or not. As coaches we must understand the differences and make modifications to our style of communication and approach in order to sell our services.
Culture is communication. It is a way people create, send, process and interpret information. We need to understand the cultural iceberg before we precede further, like in an iceberg, culture also has things we commonly see at the tip and assume it is culture. On the tip what we see are the language, expressions and gestures, food , greetings, holiday customs but what is underneath the tip is more important as the way we communicate is shaped by our values, traditions, experiences and behaviors which are hidden part of the iceberg. Communication is the expression of our thoughts and feelings, and culture has a significant impact on how we communicate. This is why different cultural groups communicate differently.
With the recent rise of globalization and the rapid growth of multiculturalism in society, we are now required to communicate more often with people from different cultural backgrounds. When communicating, one of the biggest mistakes we make is to assume that others think the same way we do.
So as coaches the most important factor for success in this globalized world is adding cultural skills to our knowledge base and the first step is being culturally sensitive of others norms, values and traditions. So as coaches, it is important to understand the “hidden dimensions” of culture, and the emotional and psychological impacts that invariably result working with clients in a culture that is different from one’s own.
While working with the international clients we need to understand the kind of culture our clients have come from or work in. We have to understand the intercultural dimensions (independence-interdependence, egalitarian-hierarchy, time orientation, communication style, etc) clients come with.
We have to understand the personal work preferences of the client and be clear that what works for one client might work against another client. Cultural sensitivity and respect for differences
in cultural and business norms and behaviors are the key for successful coaching in cross cultural context.
An open mind is a mind of curiosity, wonder, learning, infinite possibilities and a beautiful desire for understanding.-unknown
Working with the client from another culture is very exciting and rewarding yet very challenging. Working with the client from different culture will help to open your mind in ways you never realized were possible and increase your horizon. Yet there are times when both of you misunderstand each other’s customs and cultures, and there are times when you find it so difficult to communicate that you don’t even try. Coaching has been known to be the tool that helps relationships flourish and succeed.
Cultural differences are increasing not decreasing so for coaches it has become an indispensable skills set for today’s business.
How does culture impact coaching?
- Culture awareness is increasing due to the globalization so clients expect coaches to understand their differences.
- It has become an indispensable skill sets for the coach who want to have international clients.
- Due to cultural misunderstanding, common sources of trouble occur in workplace or in relationships.
- For understanding the client and helping those to move forward, as coaches need to be culturally sensitive to be successful.
Here are few research studies that show that how using coaching to impact organizational culture has impacted a company’s bottom line financial outcomes and in some cases is cited as the key factor determining the failure of a merger.
1. In a large-scale survey (Galpin & Herndon, 2000, p. 236):
- 57% of companies cited resistance to change as a risk to their mergers success.
- Seventy-three percent (73%) cited leadership as being the reason for the success of their merger and acquisition and
- 35% cited cultural compatibility as being the reason for the success of their merger and acquisition.
2. Other data (Denison, 1990) suggests that certain cultural indices, such as mission (a meaningful long-term direction), involvement (strong capability/ownership), consistency (values and systems) and adaptability (responsiveness to the business environment) are significantly related to a company’s return on investments, return on assets, sales growth, customer satisfaction, and other outcomes.
So the conclusion of these researches was that coaching can play a powerful role in changing organizational culture. Finding executive coaches, who are both interpersonally effective and also are trained and experienced in group dynamics, leadership development, and program design for assessing and measuring both individuals (e.g., attitudes, motivation) and business organizations (e.g., results, culture, climate) is particularly important to ensure there is a link between coaching activities and organizational outcomes.
How does cross- cultural misunderstanding arise?
1. Not being aware of others culture which consists of expected norms, beliefs and values
2. The influence of stereotypes and generalization
3. Unwillingness to accept the new cultural theory or norms or not ready to accept and change
Please find below my personal examples of understanding the cultural competencies and lessons learned. By being aware and trying to understand the cultural differences, I was able to meet the needs and expectations of the clients so can I could adapt properly and perform better.
1. When we work with the client to reach their desired goal, we have to understand their goals and the hidden values and norms they bring. When I was working as a career coach for international students for their job search process in US, there were certain aspects which had to be taken care before the actual job search goal. Example: Many international students come from community-based cultures where the individual is not emphasized. As a result, they lack the self-awareness, personal expression, and relevant stories which American employers expect from graduate business school interviewees. So as a coach we had to make them understand the importance of US work culture of assertiveness and self promotion during interview process needed to excel. We use our cross-cultural knowledge to help students connect to their purpose, passion and power. We then teach them how to electively communicate and connect with employers.
2. After working in US, I returned to Nepal had to face the reverse cultural shock at many places. Here is an example of one: People are routinely late to appointments whereas I was used to always being on time. People drop by my office unexpectedly whereas I was used to scheduling these impromptu meetings. First few initial weeks at work, it frustrated me and took some time for me to understand why the things are working the way it was not supposed to, according to my set beliefs and perception. Then as I became more aware of the cultural differences in terms of time, then it helped me realized the situation better and I became less agitated and frustrated. I could focus better on my work and clients’ goal without being stressful.
3. After living in a culture for a long time, we are full of assumptions that have been created by our experience with that culture. When we move, we automatically assume the same about the new place. For instance, in our “old home” it was fine for colleagues to ask personal questions like about family, compensation package, health related matters, as it was normal and way of expressing concern. Then I assumed that things should be the same in my “new home”. But “personal stuff” really meant personal and it took some time for me to realize and it did create some misunderstanding. So this experience taught me to understand the clients’ stories from their individual lenses.
So now through the years of living and working in multi cultural environment, I have learned one thing that is being open mind and giving one thought before passing judgments. We have to understand that the new client or the new country we work with have their cultural existence for long time and it is the way they have been doing things accepted by the norms and values of their society. So we have to understand that no matter how much it may bother us and no matter how much we disagree, a judgmental attitude will get us nowhere.
As coaches, we have to remember that we don’t dictate of how to be for our clients but have an open mind, free of judgments and assumptions. The more we are open minded the more we are able to see the different truths and realities and accept the things. We try not to change things for others but learn the skill of changing their cultural attitudes and behaviors when dealing with a different culture and their negotiable variables. Below is an example of how as coaches, we can use this Culture Mastery 4C model to enhance our cultural competence.
The Global Coach Center has the Culture Mastery 4 C’s Process™ Program which has been specifically designed to help coaches, trainers and expat address the differences and frustrations through the 4 C’s process™ that builds your intercultural competence.
The 4 C’s are:
C – CALCULATE. The first step in the Culture Mastery 4 C’s Process™ is an assessment-type indicator. Individuals calculate their preferences within 11 cultural variables and thus learn their own Cultural Blueprint. They are then able compare it with the Cultural Blueprints of their co-workers/staff/clients/ partners from other countries/cultures and calculate the gaps between the preferences.
C – CHOOSE. In the second step of Culture Mastery 4 C’s Process™ individuals are guided through the process of choosing their negotiable and non-negotiable cultural variables. They are offered the tools to make that choice from the perspective of their values/dreams/beliefs vs. habits/talents/skills. This distinction allows them to understand which culture-specific behaviors they can adjust.
C – CHANGE. In the third step of Culture Mastery 4 C’s Process™ individuals learn the skill of changing their cultural attitudes and behaviors when dealing with a different culture and their negotiable variables.
C – CREATE. In the fourth step of Culture Mastery 4 C’s Process™ individuals learn the tools of creating cultural alliances for those cultural variables that are non-negotiable.
Here are few things as coaches we can do to be more cultural savvy:
- Know yourself: Identify your own cultural and personal beliefs and values through self-assessment tools like Culture Compass- Hofstede scales which will help to understand the cultural dimensions salient to your home and client’s cultures and how the similarities or differences will affect your experience working with the clients from different cultures.
- Get to know the client better- When we have a discovery session, we can try to figure out where clients have lived and worked which will give the coaches the better perspective of the client. We get a fair idea on how the client’s education system, religion, economics, government and politics have the impact on individual’s culture.
- Active Listening- As human we have tendency to listen whatever is easy and familiar and avoid whatever seems to be difficult and unfamiliar. As coaches we have clients from different parts of the world who come with different levels of English and different accent so we can easily become the victims of poor listening which can lead to our poor performance. Thus a close mind becomes a major barrier to listening.
- Be cultural savvy: Learn & read about differences in cultural behaviors and norms. As coaches , let’s not stereotype and generalize people but have a better understanding of the
drivers behind other cultures’ behaviors, priorities, beliefs, values and assumptions.
- Self awareness: Getting a better understanding of the “why” behind behavior. Being self aware of the problems that arise in communication with people from other cultures and tries to release the judgment.
- Understanding Language: As coaches, we have to be mindful communicating in your native language vs. second language as there are communication barriers that make the interpretation of words different. Avoid using idioms and slangs as it might not be understood to a non native speaker.
- Cultural cues: Basic understanding of non-verbal communication and cues of the client’s culture is a must. Verbal and non-verbal communication patterns of the host culture (gesticulation, formal vs. informal style, use of space and touch in communication) are the factors that influence certain behavior so breaking down communication barriers on how to determine cues of misunderstanding and to adapt one’s communication style to meet clients’ standards
- Business Etiquette: Having a clear coaching contract with client is a must. As a part of the agreement, there should be a clear point on accepted behavioral norms and importance of time on communicating whether face to face, email, fax or phone. Having this initial contract gives the client the clear expected norms and behaviors required for upcoming sessions.
If as coaches, we are able to adapt to new culture by being sensitive and open minded then we can effectively build a successful and long lasting business relationship with our international colleagues. In a highly competitive coaching business, building these culture savvy skills can help coaches use culture as a competitive advantage over the competitors.
Greet Hofstede- Hofstede center www.hofstedecentre.com
Galpin, T. J. & Herndon M. (2000). The complete guide to mergers and acquisitions: Process tools to support M & A integration at every level. Jossey-Bass.
Denison, D. R. (1990). Corporate culture and organizational effectiveness. Wiley.
Schein, E. (1992). Organizational culture and leadership. Jossey-Bass.