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Cross Cultural Coaching Skills

By Martha Lasley, Virginia Kellogg,
Richard Michaels & Sharon Brown

Coaching for Transformation
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Specific coaching skills and methods help coaches build effective cross cultural coaching partnerships and support them in helping clients broaden their perspectives in cross cultural interactions. Let’s explore some of these skills in the cross cultural context.


Whenever we are coaching—particularly cross culturally—how can we be alert to our own ignorance? How do we let go of what we think we know about our client’s experience and approach everything as a mystery? Part of developing awareness is learning about and embracing our own culture and experience. Another part is learning about cultural bias and privilege so we don’t assume others have that same experience. Humility comes with awareness. How do we convey our desire to explore and learn?


Once we are clear that we don’t know another person’s experience we can approach coaching with curiosity. To avoid making assumptions, we wonder and ask questions about our client’s experience.


When we’re willing to speak about our own experiences and our lack of experience, we create a safe place for clients to open up.


We learn to recognize and self-connect when we’re triggered. We take care of ourselves so we are not coming from anger or lack. We learn about and embrace our own cultural experience so we are not threatened by another’s cultural experience. Our clients notice when we get triggered, and may avoid that topic in the future unless we name what is happening and are open, willing and available to explore and stay present. Another aspect of self-management is to recognize our judgments of basic assumptions held by our clients and transform them into curiosity. In that way, we open to understanding the client’s perspectives and the cultural basis from which they emerged. This equips us to see multiple sides of the situation.

Empowering Questions

One of the ways we find out what is going on with people who may be holding back is asking evocative open-ended questions that elicit deeper awareness for both our clients and ourselves.

Deep, Transformational Listening

In deep, transformational listening, we listen for our own perspectives or judgments as issues are raised by the client and listen to the words, tone, pacing and also for what’s underneath—for what’s not being said. We also listen for what wants to emerge or be released.

In addition to the core skills above, we can call out the power by confronting cross cultural issues and leveraging opportunities. The five pathways to alignment are useful for supporting clients to address cross cultural issues:

Exploring Needs and Values—connect empathically with cultural values

Expanding the View—explore options and shifting cultural viewpoints

Experiencing the Moment—support staying fully present with difficult emotions

Envisioning the Future—dare to dream of a world where all people are respected and honored

Embracing the Shadow—address internalized oppression

Transformational coaching skills were woven into a teambuilding workshop designed for an east coast US team that was created following a global merger and reorganization between two US companies, one on the east coast and the other on the west coast:

Culture clashes made the merging of the US operations particularly challenging. As a result of the reorganization, many things changed for members of the east coast team. Some lost their flexible work hours; others were given new job responsibilities that they did not like. Although team members remained committed to their work and customer focus, the morale of the group became low. Resentment about the merger and the resulting impact on their jobs showed up as powerlessness.

The coach began with a series of meetings with the local manager, followed by one-on-one interviews with team members. This helped the coach assess the situation and gave team members a chance to voice their concerns. A custom-designed experiential workshop helped them learn a series of coaching and communication skills that supported them in building a more effective, engaged and empowered team.

They learned to explore feelings and needs, ask open ended questions, listen more effectively, give constructive feedback, make requests and explore alternate viewpoints. They co-designed a much more engaging way forward for the team. Their relationship with their manager and with each other began to improve when they got in touch with their ability to design new and collaborative solutions to what they previously perceived as insurmountable problems.

During mergers and acquisitions, organizational cultures often clash even within the same country. By increasing our openness and awareness to differing perspectives, we find the opportunity to develop new, more synergistic approaches that originate from a new culture based on the best of both worlds.

Excerpt from the book Coaching for Transformation: Pathways to Ignite Personal & Social Change by Martha Lasley, Virginia Kellogg, Richard Michaels and Sharon Brown. As faculty at Leadership that Works, they certify coaches who offer personal, organization and community transformation. Check out the free Power of Coaching teleclass.

Coaching is life-changing, world-changing work. The coaching programs at Leadership that Works go beyond theories and models and work with clients on a deeper level. You learn how to coach the whole person: physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. Whole person Transformation.

Leadership that Works

Transforming the world.
One heart at a time.

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