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Intercultural Mindfulness in Coaching

Updated: Jan 30

How to recognize and slow your assumptions and responses in coaching

You are in Dubai, coaching the CEO of a large conglomerate. In the first couple of sessions in his high-rise office, it feels like he is withholding. Maybe he is not taking this coaching seriously enough for it to really be helpful. What do you do?

In situations like these, it is easy for us to come up with solutions based on our own ideas. Perhaps it would be good to give him some feedback on this, open up your internal world and mirror back to him the things you are noticing. Maybe the solution would be to get right to the heart of the matter with some questions about his motivation for seeking out coaching. All of these options are appropriate coaching solutions, but they are missing the cultural dimensions at play.

Imagine being able to look at the person in front of you and understand exactly where cultural differences exist between you and them. That is cultural agility. There are a few different sets of intercultural tools that will help you with:

  • Perception Management

  • Self Management

  • Relationship Management

In this article, we will start by exploring a Perception Management tool that will slow your cultural assumptions, allowing you to become a more mindful coach.

Why Do We Need Cultural Agility in Coaching?

As coaches, we know that we are there to walk our clients through the process and allow them to focus on the content. However, when our coachee gets stuck on a piece of the process, our natural reaction is to assume that the things that would help us get unstuck will also help them. However, that assumption can get us into trouble. In intercultural contexts, assumptions that have worked well for us in the past, start to fail us, because the people around us hold different worldviews and values. Our intuition, unless it is properly retrained, will start working against us.

Slowing down our assumptions

One way to start retraining our intuition and to slow our assumptions is to use a tool called DIR. It is a simple tool that works in both monocultural and intercultural circumstances. It stands for Describe, Interpret and Respond. The next time you are in a complex coaching situation you can use it like this:

Describe: Stop, look at the situation, and just describe the facts. These are only things you observe. Try not to attach any value judgements or interpretations of those facts. Forcing yourself to stick to things you observe will short circuit the regular energy-saving process your brain uses of jumping to what those observations mean to you.

Interpret: Now that you have described all your observations, you can begin to look at your descriptions as a whole, and interpret them. By intentionally moving into this step with the exhaustive descriptions from the last step, we can observe how naturally and quickly our minds tend to jump from describing to interpreting.

Respond: Based on your intentional interpretations, how do you now want to respond. Normally we jump straight from Describe to Respond and Interpret happens without us even noticing it. Now we know where our response is coming from.

This simple tool gives us the space we need to understand the process our brain goes through all the time. You can use it to better understand your own natural responses to your coachee, and you can use it to help your coachee gain an awareness as to how they might be responding to situations.

Learn how to use these and other tools to become an interculturally mindful coach, in our upcoming webinar here.

The story we shared at the beginning of this article is a true story. By being interculturally mindful, that coach was able to simply invite his client to go out to lunch with him for their coaching sessions. This change in environment broke down the aloof and withdrawn image that the CEO felt he had to project in his office. This then opened up a deeper, more vulnerable space in that coaching relationship, allowing it to flourish.


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