Cross-cultural coaching is a quite recent approach. Until recently, coaches have relied on common sense, communication techniques and psychological perspectives such as behavioral psychology and emotional intelligence. Given the amazing challenges in a global and turbulent environment it is no longer sufficient. According to Rosinski, “traditional” coaching has assumed a worldview (i.e. American, and to some extent Western European) that doesn’t hold true universally. [1] Cultures have to be considered for global coaching to be efficient and must now become part of the equation.

Cross-cultural coaching is also a quite recent research field in the academic coaching research that can be traced back to 1999[2]. The term “cross-cultural coaching” was not yet used in the literature.

In this specific case, we understand that the coachee, a Filipino woman of unknown age and social upbringing, shows up at the coach’s office located in a hospital to address personal difficulties regarding her professional expectations and achievements, that she had to reduce to two day jobs due to family constraints. She also consulted the coach for a lack of confidence self confidence issues regarding her adaptation to the US culture. It is a common assumption through the experience shared among my international and/or expatriate spouses, female coachees and training groups that expatriation might be a tough call for women who frequently have to lower their yearnings and hunger for professional success to less paid and less interesting professional opportunities.[3] Also I noticed that women often tend to express a lack of confidence or some sort of complex towards the language barrier and their accent, even when the language does not in absolute facts represent an obstacle anymore, since they have reached a professional proficiency, sufficient enough to land a job. It occurs to me that when they first arrived, they experienced a rather harsh position as a foreigner, not being able to be understood by locals. This difficult start left them with a mental barrier which seems to have remained the same even though they greatly improved their ability to express themselves in the local language. I also noticed that the language barrier in that case frequently hid a bigger issue with cultural adaptation. Maintaining the problem with the language kept these individuals from adapting to the new culture, it was really hard to accept that the life they had once had was over and to grieve in order to build a completely new experience that they could appropriate as their own. It is quite often the case with spouses who follow their husbands/wives and find themselves to keep being defined as “followers” as time goes by. Once they realize the barrier is only a smokescreen and a self-built feeling of failure on their part (in the form of a negative belief), they tend to get more fulfilled and energized to go out there, try out new relationships and achieve new professional goals. My hypothesis, within the limit of my observations, and experience on encountering this kind of phenomenon more frequently with women, is that as a result to traditional unconscious machismo as part of their culture, women tend to discriminate themselves and build lower self-confidence as they pressure themselves to fit in more.

Table 1. U-curve of cultural adjustment, Lysgaard

In order to illustrate the feeling of cultural differences during expatriation, Lysgaard stressed a process of cultural adaptation, the U-curve of cultural adjustment, going through four stages, starting with a honeymoon phase described as a starting point when the expatriate discovers (with delight) his new surroundings through his own frame of reference, just like a tourist would. Then a quite difficult phase of culture shock occurs, made of disillusionment and frustrations. What is observed is that people suffer from their own inability to adapt to the new cultural frame of reference and tend to hold on to what they always knew, which is comforting and makes them feel secure. My hypothesis is experiencing this potentially dangerous phase is so disconcerting and destabilizing that some people might remain stuck, on a psychological level, in the vividly negative effects they experienced at this stage, even when they have supposedly moved up to the next phase. At this point they are not always able to seize the positive elements that occur into their lives.

The next phase is Adjustment, or gradual cultural integration, which occurs whenever the expatriate is ready to adopt the new frame of reference without letting go of his own. The last phase, called Mastery, is characterized by the progress of the individual to operate in the new culture, and to integrate the local rules as his own.

In this specific case study we might wonder how efficient coaching is when there is no commitment to a specific goal, timeframe, and number of sessions. We can not rely on precise information regarding how the coaching was truly organized, in their sessions Laura and Angela focused on the same goal of Angela getting a full time office job. However there was no clear timeframe. In this type of coaching, as part of a nonprofit organization, the coaching relationship with the coachees was not structured, there was no contract between the coach and the coachee, the timeframe was not set and it was pretty much an open agenda. In which extent does the coaching need to be organized in order to gain a positive outcome? There is a vast variety of different coaching styles, practices and development degrees on the global scale. The nature of coaching is generally characterized by the multiplicity of cultures, countries and coaching approaches. This situation means we ca not speak of a consistent, coherent coaching understanding, but it rather gives the impression of a patched quilt. Depending on each country, there are many different local characteristics and preferences in the way coaching is understood and delivered, which will also vary according to the coach’s personality and preferences.

To decide if coaching could be a good way to support nonnative employees, we could base our thinking on the prevailing coaching style in the perspective of the coach and the coachee’s native cultures. In the United States the client-coach relationship is co-created as a collaborative partnership with the client directing the focus of the coaching. Coaching in the United States is rather non-directive. The coach does not control what the client focus or objectives are.[4] However there is no prevailing coaching style as such – the whole range from directive to non-directive coaching can be found in North America.

There is a significant amount of virtual coaching (usually by telephone) as opposed to face-to-face coaching which is the predominant method found in other regions of the world. Another aspect to note is that the client-coach relationship is co-created as a collaborative partnership with the client directing the focus of the coaching. The coach does not control what the client focus or objectives are. [5]

There is no prevailing coaching style in Asia. However there is a slant towards directive coaching in particular when compared with other continents: in the 2009 Frank Bresser consulting survey there were 13 countries that were defined as directive as the dominant style (Philippines included), whereas 6 countries claimed non-directive coaching as the predominant style (Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, Tajikistan, Thailand, Vietnam).

Depending on each country, there are many different local characteristics and preferences in the way coaching is understood and delivered – also within each region. So diversity prevails.

A number of local coaching initiatives (APAC, ICF chapters) have already emerged in Asia and have started to define and develop coaching. So coaching is clearly on the rise and in the process of becoming more mature in Asia in terms of quality and infrastructure. However, coaching is still mainly driven and determined by multinational clients. As a result, you rarely find specific asian coaching forms and approaches. So, while local initiatives increasingly take place in Asia, these still remain rather limited.

In an academic perspective we might therefore ask ourselves if a non-directive approach might be suitable for a coachee whose native culture prevails a directive approach.

In my own experience I noticed that there is a limit to coaching using those frames of mind and cross-cultural tools designed to ease the uncertainty of communication from one culture to another. I also do not share the opinion that there is a need to master the many subtleties of the coachee’s culture to gain a positive outcome in a coaching; general knowledge, jungian archetypes and insights might suffice, the coachee being well aware that his/her coach does not share the same cultural background as him/her. There is a need to adopt a really pragmatic, open-minded way of thinking: the coaching worked, and the outcome was rewarding on both parts. With time and practice I personally got to think that it also depends so much on the client’s own frame of mind, that no matter the way, as long as there is a positive outcome.

Then we have to look somewhere else. There is one insight that has been a key to success in my practice in establishing the nonnative coachee’s deep confidence and increase his capacity in being more result oriented and achieve success to a greater level, and that lesson was taught to me altogether by the ethno-psychiatric approach and an inner sensitivity of being different in a so-called native culture which failed in bringing me a feeling of cultural wholeness. The entry point is that of the coachee, whatever that might be, however he might feel, and the journey to his soul might as well be as ravishing and stunning as those we make across the globe. In my opinion there is a real necessity to embrace whatever the coachee thinks or tells as a deep truth, to the extent that it is his/her truth and therefore it has to become the coach’s in order to help him broaden his thinking to a level that will allow him to awaken to a full range of positive options and outcomes among which he will be able to choose, if he desires to (which he will in time).

I doubt that coming from an international background might help that much, particularly if thriving in this environment has always been the norm and there’s been no reflexive questioning or doubts, no feelings of rejection whatsoever. As a matter of fact, within the peculiar crowd of “global people” I have met around the planet, I couldn’t help but notice that one can jolly well walk through life, crossing or intertwining paths with others, without understanding the least bit of what it feels like to be estranged and secluded in a place where no living human being can reach you from your own frame of reference. To me there is a need to have felt unfit (in not trapped) in an environment, to be able to understand and help people experience cultural change. Could you imagine, at this point of discouragement, someone joining you into your own world, simply accepting the way you think the world like a golden truth and encouraging you to get out your negative thinking instead of suppressing it? There is a great chance you might as well, with positive guidance and a few “magic tricks” along the way (“magic tricks” are quite useful for coaches to raise awareness), open your mind and your senses in ways you could never have imagined before. During this journey you will uncover hidden and radiant aspects of yourself, your most beautiful insight will be realizing that those aspects were already in yourself all along. Many people are scared that this kind of journey will lead them to discover a darker side of themselves, what they just do not figure out is that it barely can get darker than that with a coach using a strong codes of ethics and human love. It can only get brighter.

Another analogy I might draw, re-using the Lysgaard U-curve, is that of the coaching process as a journey, being experienced both by the coach and the coachee, in the extent that the coach accompanies the coachee through the whole process, which is not without taking some risks within the relationship itself. In the first stage it is indeed an exciting delight for the coach to go and discover a new human being, all of the coachee’s potential seems great and beautiful, if not harmonious. The coachee too, even if scared, is full of energy and motivation, he senses that there might be good things for him happening here. Then at the culture shock point (a value clash might occur in the relationship for instance) there might be disenchantment for the coach, and at this point a supervisor can be of a great help so the coach can work on his issues towards the coachee. The coachee might disagree with something the coach said, or some line he drew, and is showing it if not expressing it. This phase can potentially be harmful, and the coach needs to be extremely careful with everything he says or does. He also needs to clear whatever misunderstanding might stand in the way of the coaching process. When the storm is dealt with, the coach will adjust with the coachee, who is only a human being after all, and will help him acquire a new frame of reference without letting go yet of his old one. They really start to grow together from this phase. When they reach the end of the coaching they are at the acme of their art, in a Mastery phase that will leave them both more mature. The coachee feels powerful and autonomous, he can progress now all by himself and is proud to share his achievements with the coach. The coach is filled with satisfaction and joy, like a parent bird who just fed and taught his offspring everything he knew and is watching them proudly as they fly away. They then prepare themselves to say goodbye, and of course wish each other a nice life journey.



[1] Rosinski, P. (2003). Coaching across cultures. Boston:Nicholas Brealey.

[2]Hicks, M. and Peterson, D. (1999). Leaders coaching across borders. In Mobley, W.H., Gessner M.J. and Arnold, V.H. (Eds). Advances in global leadership. (Vol.1). Stamford CT: Jai Press.

[3] Expat Communication. (2011). Panorama de l’expatriation au féminin.

[4] Frank Bresser consulting. (2009). Consulting report :  global coaching survey.

[5] Sherpa coaching. (2015). Executive global coaching survey.