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Coaching Internationally

Graham shares his experiences of coaching people around the world with different cultures, values, and religious and political benchmarks, compared to coaching in the United Kingdom.



In this edition of The Coaching Conversation, I thought you might find it interesting if I shared with you some of my experience of coaching people from around the world; coaching people for whom English isn't their first language, people who live in fundamentally different societies with different values, perhaps different legal structures and different, ethnic, religious and political benchmarks compared to what we are used to in the United Kingdom.

I've coached people from Beijing, throughout Europe, across America and South America, as well as in Scandinavia. I can positively share with you that as a qualified professional executive coach, the jobs are the same, regardless of the background of the coach. Fundamentally the job of the coach is to help that coachee identify what's important to them, identify what they want to change in their lives, in their career and set themselves goals, levels of attainment, improvement, and development they want to achieve during the course of that coaching program with you, whether that's six months or 12 months or whatever.

By using your coaching skills, by using all of the techniques and experiences that you've had as a coach, you help them navigate that journey. When I say help guide them; you encourage them, you support them, you hold them to account for the progress that they've committed to.

So, what are the kinds of problems that you're going to get? Well, clearly language is an issue. I'm not a linguist. I do speak English. I have schoolboy, French and even less schoolboy Spanish, but that doesn't really get me much more than buying a beer. The truth is, provided they can speak English reasonably well, and they can understand English reasonably well, my ability to ask them questions, challenge them, to say something supportive will work.

So, provided I am sensitive to the kinds of phrases I might use. I try not to use too many idioms, too many slang phrases or too many abbreviations, and possibly too many acronyms. I try to keep it to readily used and understood English, particularly for people who've been taught English in a working multinational working environment. Then, I'll make it more effective for both of us.

One of the slightly more complicated and nuanced areas that I found is the culture of the other country is fundamentally different to the culture of the UK. We do live in the UK in a very liberal society. We do respect other people's views. We do respect other ways of life. Be that sexuality, religion, age, you name it. We are very sensitive, very accepting of the fact that but we're not all parts of this world; they may have perspectives of perhaps sexual diversity. They have perspectives on the working environment. They have perspectives of the relationship between the worker and the employee that are different to what we are used to. The way that I've tackled that is to be very open about it and ask them to explain some of the challenges they might have. If I've asked them to consider a situation or reflect on a situation that's happened to them or consider a challenge that I've given them, why that would be more difficult for them in a way that I might not understand?

For example, a general manager in an organisation in a country such as China where society is very different and very hierarchical; the boss by definition, not necessarily by capability or anything else, has a status that they need to maintain and a way of interacting with their staff, which isn't as informal as we are used to. So, that was a learning curve for me and as I absorbed that I could adapt the way in which I was asking questions and the kinds of responses I was expecting,

If you're coaching someone in say a communist business, a communist society, but they're working alongside people in the free Western economy; how do they adapt to that? There is a huge opportunity for a disconnect between understanding how the two societies work, even in a business context, how do you help them bridge that gap? Or the simple answer is you identify the gap and help them work out how they're going to deal with it.

Obviously, there are inevitably going to be – more often than you care to think - issues around social values, whether that's the role of women in society, whether it's the role of religion in society, whether it's the fundamental freedom of speech and so on. These are aspects that you have to be extremely sensitive to when trying to encourage.

You are coaching them to adopt certain changes to the way in which they behave, some of the ways in which they go about their lives, and if they come back to you and say that won't be a credible possible route for me, because it'll cause me issues, then you've got to understand what it is they're saying to you rather than believe they're just dodging the issue.

Another aspect, which is really an interesting aspect, is that success for some coaches in different societies is not the same. We might have a very black-and-white perspective of success in an executive coaching program as new skills fit for the next promotion and financial gain. Those things might be very straightforward in other societies. It might simply be status in other societies. It might simply be the ability to serve their boss, their employer, in a new way. And so, success for them might not look like the success that we would naturally aspire to in the west, certainly in the UK. And so once again, the issue here is sensitivity. The issue is exploring these differences and letting them play them back to you in a way where you can absorb them, understand them and bring a sense of balance to the way in which you support them through the program.

So, there you have it; how do you coach people from different societies, from different backgrounds, different languages and different cultures? How do you do that effectively? And I think I've given you some clues.


That was the latest edition of The Coaching Conversation. I hope you found it interesting. I hope you found it useful. You can find out more about our coaching programmes at

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