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Research: Cross Cultural Coaching

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Business, as they say, knows no boundaries. And coaching—particularly executive coaching—has increasingly included a cultural perspective as a means of maximizing a client’s ability to succeed in a modern, multicultural business environment.

But what about your life coaching client from around the corner? Would knowing that person’s cultural history help you coach them? New research suggests it would.

Researchers Kate Gilbert and Philippe Rosinski argue that culture is an “integral part of (an) individual’s identity,” and factoring that into the coaching relationship “opens up greater awareness and clarity about one’s own cultural starting points and assumptions, particularly the cultural foundations of values and beliefs.”

For Gilbert and Rosinski, bringing culture into coaching “can open the doors to a wider and deeper understanding of learned behaviors; the degree of congruence or incongruence experienced in different aspects of life; and the possibility of consciously choosing difficult orientations.”

Kate Gilbert is a senior lecturer in coaching and mentoring at Oxford Brookes University in the UK. Philippe Rosinski is a master certified coach and author of a book on cross-cultural coaching, Coaching Across Cultures.

Rosinski describes coaching across cultures as having two key goals:

  • to enable more effective work across cultures (both internationally and when working with people from various organizations and backgrounds)
  • and to offer “in essence a more creative form of coaching

“The approach challenges cultural assumptions. It propels you, the coach, and your coachees beyond previous limitations,” Rosinski said. “It offers new options in the form of alternative ways of thinking, communicating, managing time, and engaging in our various activities.”

Does it truly work?

To test Rosinski’s theories, Gilbert examined Rosinski’s cultural orientation framework, or COF, which examines eighteen “dimensions” grouped in seven categories “corresponding to critical challenges faced by people everywhere.”

“The purpose of the COF,” Gilbert writes, “is to bring to light the individual’s cultural orientations, the cultural filters to perception.” By using the tool, Gilbert says, “the process can give rise to quite profound introspection and reflection, particularly on values.”

Writing in Coaching: An International Journal of Theory, Research and Practice, Gilbert and Rosinski argue that “the coach with acute cultural ‘antennae’ can keep an eye on the overall cultural context of the client. By using the COF assessment tool, the coach and client together can build awareness of the internalization of the external culture, and the externalization of internal culture.”

The interest in cultural awareness is taking root in coaching, with several universities and business schools—including Oxford Brookes, Surrey University, the University of Sydney and the Kenichi Ohmae Graduate School of Business in Tokyo—offering culture and coach training in their curriculum and research projects. Harvard Business School recently added Rosinski’s Coaching Across Cultures as a recommended book to business leaders.

Rosinski believes the new focus on culture corrects a mistake coaching has made by ignoring the question of cultural identity.

“For many years, the cultural dimension was ignored or at best, given anecdotal and superficial attention,” he said. “Coaching, originating from the U.S., assumed a worldview that was not universally applicable.”

Do you incorporate culture awareness into your coaching? If so, how?

About the Author

Mark Joyella is an Emmy-winning television news reporter and anchor who has worked at television stations in Colorado, Georgia, Florida and New York. A firm believer in the power of coaching, Mark has been on both sides of the coaching equation, as a client, and as a coach, helping aspiring journalists excel in writing, reporting and storytelling. Mark lives in Connecticut with his wife and daughter. Follow Mark on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/coachreporter.

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There are 7 Responses so far...

Billy C H Teoh on January 25, 2010

As far as my experience goes, being awared of the ‘cultural implications/orientations/beliefs/values’ can be at many levels – ethnic, racial, community, personal/individual inclinations, team and even at Organization levels can have great impact on the coaching effectiveness. At different levels – perspectives can be quite different.

There are many assessment tools around, that propogate to measure ‘cultural orientations’ and many of these tools are built on the work of anthropologists and psychometricians.

The challenge today is that there are emergence of ‘hybrid cultural orientations’ – where ‘cultures’ are influenced, ‘corrupted’ or even ‘re-oriented’, so much so that many of these ‘cultural orientation’ assessment tools may not comprehensively capture the essence.

To what extent will these ‘cultural orientations’ whether ‘solidified’ or ‘hybrid’ affect coaching effectiveness?

Would it not be more effective to work with the ‘meanings’ behind these ‘cultural orientations’ whatever they may be via verifications & validations, rather than ‘take for granted’ with assessment tools such as COF and others.

Although many ‘values’ can be universal, the ‘meanings’ attached to each of these ‘values’ can run on a continuum, and as such interpretations of these ‘values’ and ‘cultural orientations’ has to be at the appropriate levels.

What are your thoughts about my thoughts on this topic?

Billy C H Teoh
Malaysia.

»Add your response
Dee on January 25, 2010

Incorporating cultural awareness into my coaching means I am better able to assess the gap between where my expat-client comes from and where he or she is supposed to integrate effectively. So far, Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner’s 7 Dimensions have been an invaluable tool, but I like Rosinski’s more specific classification, too. (Pity I couldn’t afford going to his seminar in New York, I would have loved that I’m sure.)

Cross-cultural sensitivity is not only helpful for expats though, also (local) Americans working with international teams / subordinates would qualify from looking into why their colleagues think/act/make decisions the way they do.

I’m a big fan of using self-awareness in leveraging strengths and differences, which is why I’m on pins and needles to incorporating my MBTI Certification with cross-cultural elements shortly. :-)

As always, timely and stimulating article, Mark! Thank you for facilitating the conversation!

Have a wonderful week, everyone,
Dee
http://blog.buildingthelifeyouwant.com

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Billy C H Teoh on January 25, 2010

I am not totally familiar with Rosinski’s cultural orientation framework, though many of Rosinski’s cultural orientation dimensions has some similiarities with meta-programs.

As with most ‘perceptual inclinations’, they can become our ‘default responses’ over time.

Coaching around these ‘dimensions’ can be challenging as they may involve ‘contextual & content-oriented issues’ which may be outside the domain of coaching?

Take for example – the dimension of deductive-inductive (categorized as ‘cognitive’ in meta-progams term). A coachee ‘default’ may be deductive, and attempting to be coached in ‘flexibility’ from running along the continuum of deductive-inductive may be one of the coachee’s goals.

Because the profiling of a coachee’s cultural orientations can only provide a snapshot of the coachee’s ‘default orientations’, working with the ‘meanings’ of each of these dimensions may be required to generate a more complete profile.

In practice, a deductive coachee may need to be coached or learn how to response to an inductive boss.

So accessibility to information/profiles of the cultural orientations of a particular group or even for a particular individual would assist the coaching process.

Billy C H Teoh
Malaysia.

»Add your response
Tom Frengos on March 9, 2010

Cultural awareness and cultural dimension tools are a great starting point for the cross cultural understanding journey. However, if we rely too much on these dimensions then we get into what Osland and Bird refer to as sophisticated stereotyping.

We may find that people from Chinese cultures who are classified as Collectivistic (by Trompenaars and Hofstede) and show individualistic entrepreneurial behaviours.

As coaches, we need to give our clients these tools as a starting point and then address these exceptions. Dealing with these exceptions helps give a deeper understanding of culture, mainly how situations and personal identify can interact with cultural identity.

Another area that I find promising is helping clients deal with the paradoxes of culture. The more we become exposed to a culture, the more likely we are to encounter contradictions or paradox. Paradoxes of culture can involve expatriate managers being torn between their own country values and the host country in which they operate.

In this instance, a coach can help the client learn how to embrace this host country’s values or what Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner refer to as reconciling the expatriate’s own values with his host country’s values.

As a Canadian expatriate living in South Korea and Australia, I found myself faced with paradox and learned to embrace and integrate these new values. Osland and Osland have a very interesting article on Paradox and Culture.

So cross cultural coaching is more complicated than building awareness of cultural dimensions, it involves taking clients on a journey of paradox, discovery and growth.

Tom Frengos
Cross Cultural Coach and Trainer
Australia

»Add your response
Maureen Bridget Rabotin on March 20, 2010

Great topic! Thanks Mark for starting it and for all the contributions. I am very much aligned with Billy’s point of view.

We need not to “As coaches,…give our clients these tools as a starting point” but need as coaches, to understand where we are or are not aligned with research done on country-specific dimensions of where our passport comes from. Our own cultural beliefs, assumptions, attitudes and expectations come from our formative years, both personally and professionally – be it in a country, from foreign caretakers and later on from our professional experience ( both corporate and functional cultures – ex. HR / Finance). Culture is a facet of the diamond which makes each of us unique, not country-specific. A quick reminder, the dimensions and their tools come from the B.G. era – Before Google. Today’s generations are more exposed and have interacted with other cultures from their living room more often then I did at their age. Globalization is doing wonders to bridging cultural divides, as long as we are not afraid to each take the first step in developing deep self-awareness – cultural awareness is a part of that – not learning about “them” but about ourselves.
Maureen
France

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@Dee Hello. Can you please share more information about the “Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner’s 7 Dimensions”?
Thanks.

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@Tom Your feedback is critical and I agree with your point about taking stereotypes too far. This is a struggle I have in creating cross-cultural trainings. I agree it’s important to learn about cross-cultural variables but the problem is when they are ‘taken too far’ and create stereotypes; the very thing we are trying to avoid in cross-cultural trainings. That is the irony!

Any advice on that is very timely and helpful being new to this field. Thank you.

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