Do you find yourself on the thin line of wanting to communicate without crossing the culture line into being too directive where you risk offending, losing clients, customers, direct reports (and failing your coaching exam)? I want to simplify the process for you and partner with you to sharpen your culturally intelligent communication edge to #unlockallpotential and contribute to a more civil, peaceful and prosperous world.

At our EthicalCoach Leadership Coaching Summit in Ethiopia as well as coaching leaders and teams globally, I have found that female leaders walk the same fine line in Ethiopia or anywhere in the world as they do in my own US state. They might be asked or feel compelled to speak up more, yet may drowned out by male voices or even criticized for speaking up too much.

Our solution to how to communicate without crossing the culture line and losing business is based on our acronym for being appropriately DIRECT:

  • Dealing with Uncertainty
  • using Intuition
  • Recognizing and managing Cultural Differences
  • Expanding Perspectives
  • Clear, Culturally Intelligent, “Compassionate Edge” Feedback & Communication
  • Transforming through Metaphors

In our VUCCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Culturally Complex and Ambiguous) world we crave certainty. Yet besides the danger of moving to being too directive (decreasing ownership, results and impact), some confuse being direct with being rude (what is acceptable for one culture may be considered rude in another), which may result in losing clients, business, direct reports; with a negative effect on the bottom line.

Others may bully people and try to excuse it by calling it “direct”. Part of the International Coach Federation definition of Direct Communication (now woven across all the eight competencies) is “Uses language appropriate and respectful to the client,” which is the opposite of bullying, and varies according to culture. The definition and behaviors associated with respect vary from culture to culture.

I want to know how to convince them of the truth! (they are  wrong)!” the leader told me in our initial coaching session, when I asked him to give me an example of his goals of improved negotiation and partnerships. Alarms sounded in my head! 

How was this leader able to shift his approach for better results?

I invited a shift in this Western European Leadership Coaching Client’s perspective. Knowing he was working in South  America, I asked about the cultural differences. Specifically I asked how direct he thought his communication was and how direct he thought his South American partners were.  

This proved to be key to this leader moving from the place of seeing his beliefs and culturally direct communication as right and others’ as wrong, to accepting and even adapting to cultural differences. He was able to see beneath the surface of behaviors, business practices and customs that he found irritating and frustrating at first to underlying beliefs, values and resulting differences in communication style (direct to indirect) as well as pace.  

 At the conclusion of our coaching engagement, this client shared what he had learned from our coaching: “Speak less, listen more, try to understand. View with the eyes of someone else (empathy): asking what, how questions (modeled by his coach!). Like game of  chess.”

As a Leadership, Executive, Team and Mentor Coach, Trainer and Coaching Supervisor, I see the other coaches and leaders I work with struggling to find the balance between being too directive or too indirect, not recognizing how crucial awareness and communication about culture is.

Cultural identities can include gender and nationality as mentioned as well as generation, ethnicity, region, religion, etc. “Remains aware of and open to the influence of context and culture on self and others” is a crucial aspect of the Foundational Embodies a Coaching Mindset, along with Demonstrating Ethical Practice, “Is sensitive to clients’ identity, environment, experiences, values and beliefs” as well as Cultivates Trust through “Demonstrates respect for the client’s identity, perceptions, style and language and adapts one’s coaching to the client, acknowledging their uniqueness,” and finally in Listens Actively, this same consideration of identity(s) etc to enhance communication, understanding.

Research supports that the best results occur when our clients and/or direct reports come up with their own ideas and solutions rather than our telling them what to do. (This can work in personal relationships as well!)

“The coach creates sufficient space for the client to have equal or more communication time than the coach,” is one of the expectations of Master Certified Coach (MCC) level Direct Communication.  And it works for everyone-balance the amount of time you are communicating with allowing space and time for others to communicate.  I notice a big difference in beginning (asking lots of questions) and more experienced coaches in this regard, and it was one of my reasons for developing our CQ (Culturally Intelligent) programs and materials.

Coaches, sign up now for our Culturally Intelligent Mentor Coaching + Certificate Program to advance your coaching and credentialing, contributing to you and your clients’ potential and prosperity rather than business loss, with the opportunity to earn up to 30 hours of ICF CCE and our Culturally Intelligent Coaching™ Certificate.

Leaders, want to check in on how you, your team and organization can communicate without crossing the culture line to avoid loss of business and talent, and increase your impact? Contact me for an Unlock Potential strategy session.

You are in good hands-I am known as a clear, concise, culturally intelligent direct communicator sharpened by coaching United Nations and other global leaders and teams, serving on the ICF Global Board of Directors and mentoring, training and supervising coaches since 1998 in 40+ countries.

To our potential, prosperity and peace-we are in this together!

Thanks and see you next week,

Marilyn O’Hearne, MSW, MCC, LLC; CQ Master Certified Coach, International Coach Federation 913-327-0611

Unlocking potential, prosperity and peace for leaders, coaches and their organizations through Executive, Leadership & Team Coaching, Mentor Coaching and Coaching Supervision

First published June 23, 2015 and updated