Changing: cross-cultural coaching


Changing: cross-cultural coaching
Changing: cross-cultural coaching
Publié sur Alceis (
Changing: cross-cultural coaching
I mentioned the experience of the boiled frog in the Alceis Newsletter’s May issue, illustrating the
topic of adaptation to changes. We will focus this month on the importance of the environment in
changes’ choices, and apply it to cross-cultural coaching.
Taking the environment into account.
In the systemic approach, persons, jobs, structure as well as interactions within the organization
must be taken into account. In every single situation, there is not only ONE reality but a
representation that we make of the situation according to our beliefs, or the moment. We all heard
different stories of a meeting or an event, depending of the person telling the story. It is as if the
different participants did not attend the same meeting. As one says, the “map is not the territory”;
moreover, the map changes with time. Everyone changes the interpretation of the facts over time.
Everything may evolve according to our new perception.
Any person can evolve if he/she wishes to, and will find solutions adapted to his/her situation.
In this approach, we think that the relation between the coach and the coachee is a translation of
situations lived by the coachee under other circumstances. A typical example: a coachee comes for a
management issue: he/she is perceived as too assertive. He/she keeps talking for an hour about
his/her situation, without letting the coach asking a question. This anecdote seems to be a
caricature, but is a true story. The coach should then seize the opportunity to realize what is called a
“reflection”: “does this situation remind you anything in your professional life?” This question may
induce a very strong awareness.
Any organization, any system, as well as any of its members, implements homeostatic systems for
adapting and thus avoids to really changing. Coaching is another way: neither training or advising,
nor therapy. The coach does not bring a solution to the coachee, he co-builds with the coachee the
personal solution of the latter.
A trainer or a consultant is an expert transferring his knowledge, technology, or method. A coach is a
specialist of relation and responds to a demand of professional performance. How can one act
differently in a given situation, here and now? Past of course is part of the landscape, of the
representation; however, the coach is not looking for the past, when a therapist would search the
reasons of a situation. Limits are not watertight: it is sometimes useful to go through elements of
private context to explain a situation. An expatriate whose spouse is depressed because she does
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Changing: cross-cultural coaching
Publié sur Alceis (
not find her marks will not act in the same way than an expatriate whose spouse is radiant (this
shows the interest of accompanying spouses in expatriation contexts).
Cross-cultural coaching
If I consider the example of cross-cultural coaching, that I know particularly well, a so-called crosscultural training is absolutely necessary: understanding the Chinese social “yes” or the Japanese
hierarchic codes, for instance, is crucial. It is nevertheless a prerequisite. The cultural ropes given to
a manager are not sufficient to pilot a cross-cultural team at a level of excellence. The expatriate
manager must also evolve. There are cultures that just cannot conceive a younger or female
The manager can feel totally destabilized by his interlocutors’ reactions. For instance, an extravert
French may feel really uneasy with a silent Japanese interlocutor. This may have two consequences:
either the French manager feels faulted, and would tend to accentuate his extraversion, or may build
a negative representation of the other culture. Cultural prejudices cause interferences in the relation.
They are especially difficult to erase as they are built on a symbolic wound. The importance of a
thorough work on oneself is thus crucial for the person wishing to emerge from this situation without
watching backwards. According to what I am and what is the Other, how can I evolve and accept the
Other as he is?
Let me tell an anecdote. I accompanied a manager taking a new appointment as responsible of a
sales team based in different countries. He thought: “I will reinforce links and encourage the use of emails. This is most efficient; everyone will receive information at the same time and be able to
understand”. The result was disappointing. The way of writing e-mails is one of the most speaking
elements of a culture: formulations are most diverse in different cultures, words are differently
This anecdote underlines the importance of accepting the limits of one’s own culture and not being
destabilized by the situation. On the contrary, cultural differences can be turned into an advantage.
The coaching helps moving forward.
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Changing: cross-cultural coaching
Publié sur Alceis (
Danielle Deffontaines - Alceis
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