Take a lesson from Goldilocks.  You do not want your Communication Directometer™ to show too direct (her porridge “too hot”), getting burned (losing business); or too indirect (“too cold”), also risking losing business. How do you discover what is the cultural “just right” level on the Communication Directometer™ with your clients, customers, stakeholders, without crossing the line?

My grand-dog Trek, who I am staying with this week, responds to firm, direct commands, like “sit!” (sometimes). But that does not always work with humans!

How one of my coaches almost lost my business: I felt myself squirming in my chair, feeling impatient, my attention drifting, watching the minutes tick away as I listened to my laid back, West Coast coach catch me up on his life and ask about mine in the opening 15 minutes of our coaching session (too “cold” for me!).

“While I care about you and wish you well, our time together is valuable to me, and I want to get right to my coaching goals at the beginning of our sessions, ” I finally told him. We were on different points of the Communication Directometer™, based on our cultures. I chose to speak up rather than fire him.

*Communication Directometer™: A term I invented in my “How to Communicate Directly without Crossing the Line” class, (so far!) an imaginary device measuring how direct the communication is. This is not a good/bad, right/wrong meter, just a playful way to check-in.

What I learned from my Korean and Japanese clients:  The intent of the meeting is implied within a series of formal greetings, I noticed as I heard my Korean coaching students and mentees coach each other. To ask immediately in an initial meeting, “What do you want from this meeting?” could be considered rude and offensive (too hot!).  It can take several meetings of establishing trust to get to goals. This may vary based on generation, personality, seniority and how much they work with Westerners and can also apply within cultural groups in North America.

Before I started Executive Coaching for a Japanese organization, I asked, “Do you want me to show up my normal Western direct self or adjust my communication to less direct?” Their reply: “We want you to be direct, because our leaders work in a global environment.” If I had not asked, I could have lost business if I was too direct, they were not expecting or wanting that, and I could have been viewed as rude and offensive. Also if I had not asked and decided without communicating to adjust my communication to less direct, that would not have been what they hired me for and again, I could have lost the business.

2 key points:

1. Find out what your client/customer/stakeholder’s cultural preference is on the Communication Directometer™: how direct to be in your communication. How?  Ask them as well as learn about their culture. Note: our Culturally Intelligent Mentor Coaching + Certificate participants say it takes them the full 3 months of our program to fully integrate this in their coaching, as they had not been trained in it previously. Antonia Bowring mentions this in her Forbes article, “The Question that Changes Everything”. Find out more in an Unlock Potential Strategy Session!

This is also true of corporate culture: check out the preferred Communication Directometer™ when you join a new team, organization, or begin working with a new client, or are designing a product or service for your market.

2. Saving grace: Besides my own cultural preference for directness, my West Coast coach had, in writing and verbally, invited me to speak up if something was bothering me, which I did. Again this prevented him from losing my business.

Will an indirect communicator speak up, even with this permission?  Possibly not. The wise coach, leader, or business owner will initiate a conversation by asking, “How do you want to start our meetings? How do you establish trust? How will I know if I have crossed a communication line with you?”, etc.

Coaches, discover how our Culturally Intelligent Mentor Coaching + Certificate Program can expand your coaching business, better serve your clients, and gain confidence in not only your Coaching Competencies but also your Cultural Intelligence. Note: updated ICF PCC markers include addressing culture and context with your clients. Our participants find it takes the full three months of our program to make this a habit that they confidently use with clients for greater impact and to more quickly establish trust .

Leaders, apply for an Unlock All Potential Strategy session to discuss customizing a program and/or coaching solution for you, your team and your organization’s development and impact.

To our success-we are in this together!

Stay tuned till next week!

Marilyn O’Hearne, MA, MCC

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



Update of 2015, 2018 blog