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Cross-Cultural Coaching in a WFH World

Mar 10, 2021 | 7m

Gain actionable insights into:

  • How your role as a coach and leader needs to change
  • Key cultural considerations to keep in mind for each session
  • New ways to start and close each session

New Reality, Different Coach

How does prolonged periods of working from home impact your team? For one, they’re now immersed in the domestic world they could once shut out with a trip to the office. Distance also makes it more challenging for them to gauge how their colleagues and supervisors may truly be feeling, what their reactions really mean. 

Coupled with uncertainty from the ensuing pandemic, this also means that your team, and you, need a constant reserve of emotional stamina to sustain normalcy. All this keeps adding to already complex layers of work.

As a result, you’ll find that a lot of psychological issues will come in the way of performance issues. How you approach your sessions then needs to change, as a coach. The goal of your sessions would still be to improve performance metrics – but this can no longer be your sole focus. Before you can even start exploring what the root of the problem might be, you first need to help your team member to get in the right frame of mind so that you can have a constructive discussion. 

Even if it doesn’t come naturally to you, if you pride yourself on compartmentalising your professional and personal life, you need to adapt. You need to be mindful of the mental state of the team members you’ll be talking to. To do so, you can’t keep the personal and professional issues neatly separate as you once did. The line still exists. But it’s likely you’ll need to wade through personal issues that your team member is open to share to assess how to resolve issues in their professional sphere. This shift in style is a means to an end and not a reason for you to play therapist. 

Some of your team members or new individuals you will be coaching may be based in a country or observe a culture that’s very different from yours. Take the time to learn some of their cultural beliefs. This helps you better understand what may be driving their anxieties and how they may process your words – which is especially important because you’ll be gauging all this through a screen.

For instance, the pandemic has brought about much uncertainty in terms of job security. Someone in the US may equate the loss of a job with increased financial difficulties. In Japan, this comes into play as well. But more importantly, losing a job would also mean losing prestige. Even if it was the result of economic forces beyond one’s control, simply sitting around at home every single day isn’t acceptable. An individual who loses their job would then bear the burden of putting their family members through psychological difficulty in addition to financial strain. This isn’t likely something that your team member would share specifically if you’re just starting to build rapport. You need to consider the anxieties that differ from culture to culture, country to country your different team members may be carrying.

Another cultural difference I think you need to consider is how interdependent each family unit is. In some cultures, people operate as individual units. In others, families may be dependent on a sole person. If a spouse who had historically been a homemaker started a new job for additional financial security, the degree of emotional impact on the initial sole breadwinner would also vary with different cultures. Having an understanding, or at least an awareness, of the kind of pressures the person you’re speaking to may be up against would help you to build the empathy you need to facilitate these sessions.

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Sandip Ghose

Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer

MP Birla Cement



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