Coaching and supervising across diverse cultures and countries

Group Supervising bank staff I have never met in US, Hong Kong, Netherlands, Singapore and UK by a remote audio visual platform can be challenging. These HR Business partners are coaching team members of different nationalities to work cross culturally and to increase their own understanding of inherent cultural bias.

Some examples of current clients I am coaching are:

Retail clients in India, a Spanish national working for a German Boss based in the UK, A Swiss national working in Toulouse for a French Boss, A French national working in Hong Kong for a British Boss, a Chinese client working for a British Company in Geneva.

When working in a multicultural environment it is necessary to reflect on and voice cultural bias and possible misconceptions early on in the relationship. Discussing openly about both our differences and our similarities will help to build trust and bridge the gaps in our knowledge and understanding. One of my Indian clients voiced her concerns early on. “I find it very difficult to speak openly to a stranger I have never met. In my culture families only open up when they know each other well and when trust has been build up over time.”

We spoke openly about how we could both build that trust even though we would never meet face to face. How we could bring ourselves into the coaching sessions and put aside any intrusive thoughts or cultural bias we may have. We started the sessions with deep breathing to centre ourselves and to cut out any unhelpful chatter. We discussed how we would use respectful language and as her coach I used David Grove Clean Language methodology to ensure I was not making assumptions and remaining respectful of her language and world views.

One of the most powerful strategies for working cross culturally is to speak from the heart and to stay truly present and authentic. I share with my clients about the kind of energy we bring to sessions and how deep listening and speaking from the heart is so essential. How putting judgements aside and taking time to prepare ourselves for coaching and supervision sessions is crucial to greater understanding. Finding that calm space inside us that holds an open and trusting space where real insights emerge. These elements of coaching and supervision are even more essential when working with different cultures and unconscious bias.

My clients have told me it is helpful when coaching in multicultural environments to have had experience of living and working in other countries. It wasn’t until I had lived and worked overseas that I really had an insight into how we are moulded and influenced by our own culture and way of being in the world. How when someone behaves or voices opinions so different to our own we can be shocked or feel a resistance beyond our immediate understanding. I remember being told I couldn’t wash my car or do my laundry on Sundays. I remember feeling revolted by the food I was expected to eat and how I was obliged to wear less revealing clothes than I was accustomed to. At first I felt affected by these ‘rules’ and customs that were imposed on me but after a few months I began to understand that what I had done all my life and thought was ‘natural’ was not the case in many countries I had not visited or lived in.

I remember when I wanted to start my own business how much red tape I experienced and how much resentment I came across from the people in the village where I had made my home. I was resentful at first but then began to understand that this was born out of fear and lack of understanding. I began to change my own way of doing things so they could accept my ideas and be able to support the work I was doing there. It was never going to be as I had expected but together we came to an agreement and greater understanding.

I take these experiences to the coaching and supervision sessions and hope I am better equipped to set aside my own inherent ways of being. My own children are third culture adults brought up in a different country to both their parent’s birthplaces and speaking different languages as their mother tongue. They are truly multicultural and have a broader view of the world as a result.   Perhaps as more and more people travel abroad for work and their children who have been brought up in different countries become adults there will be greater acceptance and understanding in the world.

Feedback I have received and would like to pass on is that as coaches and supervisors we need to be tolerant and flexible yet still be able to ensure strong boundaries exist. Have a good understanding of the possible stressful elements of working for a Boss or with teams who come from a different cultural

Coaching for Leaders
Coaching for Leaders

background. Also to be mindful of the supervisor we choose. I have often taken on a supervisor who is from a different background and culture as this gives me greater experience of the issues and concerns of my clients.

When coaching and supervising others in a multicultural environment what are the tips and strategies we need to consider?

  • Always start the relationship by sharing what unconscious bias you bring to the table
  • Inquire about possible personal baggage, conflict or assumptions
  • Find out about what may not be culturally obvious or spoken about
  • When contracting agree timing, boundaries and cultural norms that may affect the sessions
  • Start from a place of acceptance and tolerance
  • Ask each other what needs to happen for us to trust and work well together
  • Remind yourselves we are all unique and doing the best we can under the circumstances
  • How might your own cultural experiences and ways of being affect the relationship
  • Quite often it is you the client and a variety of cultures in the room together – be aware and speak of possible conflict and cultural stereotypes that may arise


Someone who empathised and viewed others from their own perspective, someone who brought true unconditional positive regard to his relationships was Nelson Mandela who said that:

“To be free is not merely to cast off ones chains but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others”