Coaching Presence: co-creating psychological safety in intercultural coaching

Psychological safety is an experience of complete trust and confidence that we are respected, accepted and acknowledged for the person that we are. A psychological safe environment allows us to ask questions, contribute, take risks and fail without fear of reprisal.


In a coaching relationship psychological safety is a result of a co-created place of trust and intimacy where both coach and client are fully present, listening actively and non-judgemental in attitude. I believe that it is this combination of coaching capabilities that allows the client to discover the meaning and answers to their questions.


Using an intercultural lens, an awareness that each of us embodies our cultural heritage in a unique way, enhances the need to pay attention to the impact of our experience and the perceptions of others that form our mental models, biases and blind spots.



Mental models, biases and blind spots are part of being human. These phenomena can cause us to be limited in our ability to co-create psychological safety with our clients.


A first act of presence is to accept that each coaching client brings a set of experiences that are different than our own. When we are open, curious, interested and acknowledge the importance of the client’s experience, we are moving towards creating a safe space.


The first act implies that we suspend judgement, put aside our culturally developed world view and remain open to experiences that are not ours.


A second act of presence is to let go of labels. Let’s stop identifying people by their accent, color, sex, where they live, how they arrived in your town, or their level of education. Let’s start asking about the meaning of their experience and how that experience impacts their lives today.


An overarching quality of coaching presence is to be in awe of the client and the opportunity to hear their story and witness their growth.


In every coaching conversation we are asking permission to go into the story with the client. With clients raised in cultures different than our own, we may need to check-in about their cultural norms related to values, communication style or relationships with others. For example, in some cultures a coach may be seen more as a teacher (one with the ‘truth’ to give to the client). It may be important to gently shift this perception to support the client to find their own ‘truth’. Clients who are from high context cultures (valuing relationships and understanding implicit messages) may be challenged by direct communication (focused on the message not the relationship) that uses few words and little discussion, warmth or supportive nuances.


The most important piece of all of this is that we refrain from assuming that we know how the experience of another person has influenced their coaching questions. Start with the awareness that each culture has many sub-cultures, approaches to life and that the client with us has a specific story to tell. It is from this story that the truth emerges and the discovery of new possibilities for the client are created.


To co-create safety in an intercultural coaching context is to drop our assumptions and start with curiosity about the person’s experience. With appropriate permission to explore we can be with the client as they move to new growth in the present moment.


I am always happy to explore this and other coaching questions with you. Feel free to contact me at brian.duggan@marathonhrcg.com

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© 2020 Brian Duggan Executive Coach

104-50 Grandhaven Boulevard

Halifax, NS B3S 0H5

902.221.5864

brian.duggan@marathonhrcg.com 

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