Learn how to avoid bias and build intercultural safety in coaching
Have you ever been in a coaching situation where you seem to be speaking a different language than the other person? Or had more difficulty communicating with some clients than others—creating slower than usual results?
As we struggle to help clients get results, sometimes we end up having the opposite effect. At these moments, it is easy to slip away from a non-directive coaching practice and start making suggestions for paths forwards. At the very least, something just doesn’t feel right—something is missing.
You are not alone. Here’s a story of how one of our coaches faced that issue:
“I was coaching a lady, who was Chinese and living in the UAE. As we were coaching it became clear that, although we were both speaking English, we were not really seeing eye to eye. I would understand one thing and she would've meant something completely different.”
It didn't feel like we were aligned. It even got to a point where she said “I don't want to take a position. Because that means I'm making a judgment and so I'm going to choose to not take a position.” For me, however, that choice was taking a position.
Finally, I chose to express the disconnect that I was feeling to her. In the fourth session I said, “Can I explain what I think you understand by certain things we're speaking about. And then can I also explain what I mean by certain things? Because I don’t think we are seeing things in alignment.” I did so, and we were able to understand each other. That helped things move forward significantly.
What I didn’t realize until I received cultural training was that she was coming from a place of honor and shame, while I was coming from a place of innocence and guilt. Her desire to not take a position was actually to save face and to help the others that she was working with, to also save face. We could have got a lot quicker to the place that we got to had I known those things. As it was, there were a number of sessions where I felt kind of awkward and didn’t know how to move forward.
If I had an understanding of cultural worldviews, I would've seen it much quicker, and we wouldn’t have had to spend the first three sessions completely missing each other.”
Whether we know it or not, we bring our worldview into everything we think, say, or do, including to our coaching. And when we are coaching others, our own perceptions and bias can unintentionally find their way into our coaching, influencing our coachee’s and potentially their results.
So how do we coach someone without being hindered by our own worldviews, perceptions and biases?
The answer to this is not an easy one, because our worldview is the filter through which we experience reality and often we aren’t even conscious of our worldview. For this reason, it’s not possible for us to leave our worldview behind, but we can instead learn to recognize it and intentionally bring both our own worldview and our coachees worldview into our coaching sessions.
Understanding Cultural Worldviews
The tool we use to help recognize both our own worldview and that of our coachee is known as the Three Colors of Worldview.
The Three Colors of Worldview can be visualized as three colored lenses - formed of the basic cultural beliefs and assumptions underlying behavior and culture. Our thinking, speaking, and acting are filtered through our unique mix of these Three Colors of Worldview. So, your personal cultural preferences are a mixture of the following three drivers:
Doing that which brings honor (honor <> shame)
Doing the right thing (innocence <> guilt) and
Doing that which brings control, power & influence (power <> fear).
When we recognize our own personal mix of these and understand each of the drivers and how they influence our coachees, we can recognize when these worldviews are at play. As we recognize them, we can use this vocabulary to invite the differences in perspective. This allows us to create a safe shared cultural space.
Here’s a story from another one of our coaches of what this can look like when applied:
“I was working with a client who desired to walk a different career path to the one her parents wanted for her and expected her to follow. She was well-travelled and had spent many years away from her home country but found her parents had many different opinions to herself. She came to me for help in finding out what she wanted to do career-wise and during our sessions, the clash between the different way that her parents thought and the way she saw things was a big part of the discussion.
What was interesting about this for me as a coach was that although I managed to help her find solutions, as well as a strategy for better communication with her parents, initially I had some difficulty in keeping my own perceptions and biases out of the way. I felt more aligned with my client’s worldview than with the way she described the worldview that her parents held and I found myself wanting her to achieve her dream rather than helping her to consider the impact of her actions and decisions in all areas of her life and make decisions for herself from that place. The influence of my own biases had led me to become less coach-like in my approach.
At that time, I was learning more about intercultural worldviews and by being able to create a safe space for us to openly recognize our intercultural worldviews within the coaching relationship and allow my client to explore her own worldview as well as that of her parents, she was able to find a path forwards for herself that she was happy with and also a way to communicate with her parents that improved their relationship. I was also able to recognize my initial influence on the outcome through my own worldview and stop my perceptions from playing a part in her solutions.”
What are you waiting for…. Don’t let a difference in worldviews prevent you from creating real lasting change through your coaching.
If you want to go deeper and practice this, join our webinar on March 7th to explore how you can use worldviews to deepen the impact of your coaching with coaches from around the world.
If you would like to keep developing your intercultural coaching skills, you can join our next Certificate in Intercultural Coaching.