Coaching World Issue 7: August 2013 - Page 30

Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner illustrate this phenomenon in the diagram below. A conversation between two Anglo-Saxon/ American speakers typically resembles a tennis match: Speech is “volleyed” back and forth, with each speaker slightly overlapping the other. In a conversation between speakers from a Latin American or Middle Eastern background, conversational pauses are shorter, and there’s much greater overlap between speakers. Finally, the conversation shown between two speakers from an Asian background includes extremely lengthy pauses for the proper and respectful time allotment for understanding and reflection, with no overlap between speakers. As coaches, we’re tasked with understanding and adapting to the cadences of our clients’ conversations. I’m most familiar with the back-and-forth of many American coaching conversations, but I’ve trained myself to become comfortable jumping into conversation with—and sometimes even talking over—my Latin American clients. On the flip side, although I still find long silences uncomfortable, I’ve learned to embrace them with many of my East Asian clients, lest I risk interrupting their natural thought process. When you find a block or resistance to the coaching process, try using contextually formed powerful questions. When I learned that Helen had come to the U.S. from China as a young professional, I incorporated open-ended questions about Chinese cultural norms and professional expectations into our conversation. For her, these norms are implicit—they’re something she just “knows.” As a skilled coach, I helped her understand how these implicit cultural norms might not serve her as they did previously. More than One Tool It’s important to remember that many factors we consider as we engage with clients from our own culture can and should be accounted for when we initiate intercultural coaching. Consider how cultural norms (both your own and your client’s) can shape answers to the following questions: • Do you prefer starting a conversation with niceties or getting right to business? • Is it important to “save face” and be allowed to gracefully exit a situation where you may have made a mistake? • How do your rhythms of communication differ? A Question of Culture • What expectations are implicit regarding the formality of a professional relationship? As coaches we ask powerful questions to expand the dialogue around behavioral choices which evoke a deeper awareness of the challenges your client is experiencing. But understanding cultural context will allow you to ask even better questions. • Is conflict managed directly or indirectly, or is it situational depending on the power structure? How are different styles (evasive, weak, domineering) viewed? Patterns of Verbal Communication Anglo-Saxon/American Speaker A: Speaker B: Latin/Middle Eastern Speaker A: Speaker B: Asian Speaker A: Speaker B: Graphic adapted from “Riding the Waves of Culture: Understanding Diversity in Global Business,” by Fons Trompenaars and Charles Hampden-Turner (3rd ed., McGraw-Hill, 2011). 30 Coaching World | August 2013