Start with Self: Critical Role of Culture in Coaching


Date: April 27, 2022
Time: 12:30pm – 2:00 pm (New Mexico / Mountain Time)
11:30am – 1:00 pm (Arizona / Pacific Time)
Location: Virtual meeting via Zoom

Cost: $10 ICFNM Members & Associates / $25 Non-Members

CCEUs: 1 in Core Competencies and 0.5 in Resource Development


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Having just finished his coaching workshop sessions for ACC credentialing, Nagesh was eager, in his first coaching session, to contract with his client, a 30-year-old Latina executive in a large US software company.

Nagesh: “What would you like to explore in today’s session?”
Client: (after several seconds) “I am tired of being an impostor.”
Nagesh: “What aspect of being an impostor would you like to talk about today?”
Client: (silent for even longer than the first time) “I cannot ever be myself at work. ”
Nagesh: “To clarify, you want to explore how tiring it is not to be yourself at work?”
Client: “Yes.”
Nagesh: “Why is this topic important to you?”
Client: Silent for a long time, looking down dejectedly …

The client never came back for a second session. Following the ICF guidelines on direct communication, I asked the client twice and even clarified the specific topic she wished to explore in the coaching session. What had I done wrong? If I had been more culturally self-aware, I would have realized that the question, “Why is this important to you?” was devoid of empathy. A 2016 Harvard Business Review article noted that 76% of Latinos in the US corporate culture repressed their personas at work. To quote, “You’re always moderating yourself,” agrees a Latina executive, who feels Latinas “are always tagged with the emotional thing. They’re always told, ‘Calm down. You’ve got to be more cool. Be careful with your voice, be careful with your hands.'” Another executive noted that she felt like a pretzel constantly bending out of shape to adapt to the US corporate culture.

Culture matters. Culture is learned and shared attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors among a group of interacting people (Bennett, 1993). We can belong to multiple cultures based on our nationality, ethnicity, gender, class, sexual orientation, thought patterns, or how we manage conflict. As language is the way we learn and share our cultural beliefs, it becomes a cornerstone in effective coaching.

Instead of “Why is this important to you?” what if I had said, “Feeling like an impostor must be exhausting,” opening the door for the client to share her story in detail.

In the U.S. today, there is an increased appreciation of diversity, equity and inclusion in both profit and nonprofit organizations. A recent LinkedIn search showed 2000+ Chief Diversity Officer jobs. It is unclear, however, if professional coaches adapt their content and communication styles to be client centered.

In this session, we will investigate the role of culture in coaching, how we first have a deep understanding of our own cultural values and biases to effectively coach clients from diverse backgrounds and learn a few skills to be a culturally adaptive coach.

About Nagesh Rao
In three decades of consulting and training in United States, India, Brazil, United Arab Emirates, Thailand, Argentina, and Norway, Nagesh’s work uses intercultural competence, cultural humility and intercultural listening to develop leaders in health, education and business. Nagesh’s clients include Fortune 500 corporations, Johns Hopkins Medical School, University of Groningen, Manipal Hospitals and other top corporates, educational institutes and community-based non-profit organizations.






About Saumya Pant
Saumya is a global expert in strategically integrating entertainment-education programs with community-based group listening and locally available health care services. She has also worked on mobile marketing and the emergence of Generation Y and Z in India. She has worked on several projects funded by several international agencies, including Population Communication International and UNAIDS.


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