The Burden of being an “Intercultural Coach”

I know around three books on “intercultural coaching”. The best one has been written by my former housemate Kirsten Nazarkiewicz. Great minds live in the same building. Kirsten was ten years ago where I wanted to be now. She was an intercultural coach when no one knew what that meant.

1st principle of intercultural effectivenessWhile the term “Intercultural Coach” seems to have meaning in Germany it is not commonly known in Switzerland. There are different approaches to “intercultural coaching” and the term “interculturalist” is not used in Switzerland a lot. What we do is coaching professionals through an intercultural transition ideally improving their effectiveness by increasing intercultural competence on different levels.

In our business (Global People Transitions GmbH – the name says is all) it means coaching in an intercultural transition context or coaching of global managers.

We integrate developing intercultural effectiveness into all our programs as we feel it is a key competence for global leaders, in client service and global team performance. For our client selection it means that we value intercultural diversity.

Why it can sometimes be a burden to be an intercultural coach

The Swiss culture in my view tends to value the opposite. It’s based on excluding rather than including. If you look at how “Switzerland” was founded it is very obvious why the people learnt through generation to protect each other from the enemies outside. What started with the Ruetlischwur in 1291 is still in the mindset of the culture. (I call this concept “The Circle of Trust” in my best Robert de Niro-Voice).

The other reason is that in my personal life I spend time with people from different cultural backgrounds. The multitude of experiences and lifestyles sometimes clashes. There are situations in my life where I have to get up and leave a discussion because I cannot handle it emotionally. It often happens when differing religious and political views are at the table.

While I consider myself open and tolerant I have a strong value-based attitude that is biased towards “Germanic” logic and values. My approach can get into my way. I get frustrated when clients or friends have a different approach.

As most people I tend to overestimate my intercultural sensitivity and I am not as great in this topic when I get under pressure. As most of us I fall back into my “cultural default” (citing Sundae Schneider-Bean, another outstanding intercultural coach and trainer) when under stress.

My seven Principles for Intercultural Effectiveness

When I am asked in a coaching or training: “So what do you do about that?” I have to say that I try and fail or in most cases I eventually succeed if I follow those seven principles.

1) I try harder and show more patience.

2) I watch my conclusion from other angles.

3) I am more compassionate.

4) I give people a third and fourth chance.

5) I trust even if I had been hurt before.

6) I listen to my heart.

7) I speak slow and use simple language.

What I have learnt over the years working across cultures that we have a lot more potential to be compassionate without judging. We just need to learn to reevaluate our conclusions and judgements. We need to give people a fourth and fifth chance and we need to accept them how they are. Then we are true humans, we are able to forgive and we’ll have improving performances in our global teams.

If you struggle with the same topics contact me for a Skype session.

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3 thoughts on “The Burden of being an “Intercultural Coach”

  1. Angela – what I love about this post is that you shed light on such a critical aspect of the role of intercultural coaches (or coaches in general, for that matter). It is likely obvious that first and foremost, we do our best to provide the highest level of support for our clients to find clarity and success when faced with challenges. We, too, though are human, who succeed and faulter. Especially as an intercultural specialist, one might think that we expect others to see us as the ones who always “do it right”. This is simply not feasible, in my opinion. We aim to do well but also faulter. What we typically do very well though is to quickly identify what went wrong and gain clarity on how to prevent it in the future. (In fact, I just had a situation take place in Burkina Faso very much like this). We keep moving forward. I joke with my clients that my favorite method of learning is “learn by failure” but quite honestly, there is a lot of truth in that. We all work hard to step out there. Take risks. Try new approaches. Adapt. Sometimes it is smooth. Othertimes it is awkward. However, we neither internalize this (i.e. I am a terrible person) or externalize this (i.e. there is something wrong with “them”). We simply stay curious, reflective, open to adapting and move on….well, most of the time. 🙂

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