Coaching excellence demands not only an extended knowledge of technics but also a psychological insight and cultural awareness of client’s background and its implications for the coaching process.
Coaching tools, designed for mid-level and senior managers, work perfectly as long as we practice them within the homogeneous group. In other words, we achieve the best results if our coaches are born and breed in the country we work in or in case of foreigners, if their acculturation process is complete.
Born in Poland, trained in UK, I live in London and often work with managers from Eastern Europe. Mainly, if they choose a Polish speaking coach it is not because of their struggle with the English language, but for they unconsciously long for the cultural understanding. It happens in my view, due to an intimacy concealed in mother tongue.
Speech and language are beyond
the subject's conscious control
Professor Jacues Lacan, a key figure for the French psychoanalysis of XX century, described a catalysing role of the language for therapeutic process. He discovered that “speech and language are beyond the subject's conscious control”.
Fair enough, we perceive our emotions differently if we operate in a foreign language; perhaps we sound strange to ourselves. The language infects consciousness; it adds a new quality to our self-awareness. Those who speak languages may have similar experiences. Does communicating in French make you feel more elegant, in Spanish more relaxed and in German more accurate? Yes, it sounds like a cliché but stereotypes are based on a simple categorisation - the primary, mental process protecting us from drowning in the diversity of artefacts.
What does it imply for the coaching process? Shell we encourage our clients to switch on their language if possible?
It depends, those who are well integrated won’t seems to have a need to do it, however it’s good to mention why we found the use of mother tongue is worth considering. Overseas managers, particularly those who trained abroad, may be unaware of their acculturation issues, deeply buried in their unconscious mind. However, the unsolved cultural dilemma might be cellared for many years, maturing and waiting for the trigger to be realised. Overload of responsibilities, lack of personal space in life, flood of duties, insufficient support - these are frequent situations when people tend to snap.
Let’s use the following vignette to illustrate the lacanian concept of the unconscious power of language. A coachee of mine, a Polish national qualified in the UK and who has worked more than 20 years in London, was assigned to me me due to organisation-in-transition process. The pressure my client dealt with was enormous. She suggested speaking in English, I asked why? I wondered what was the reason she estranged herself from her mother tongue? An unconscious disintegration of her cultural identity or a simple defence of her personal vulnerability which couldn’t be accessed but through the use of mother tongue?
As we started in Polish she flooded me with memories from her childhood, discovering how impossible it was to share them with her English friends. What was obvious to her, they tended to interpret as an exotic phenomenon. In the course of coaching it became clear that the cultural background impacted her attitude towards transition. Raised in a Polish society that value the community interest more than individual wellbeing, my client couldn’t copy commercialisation of well functioning social enterprise.
The language activates memories; memories unblock emotions; emotions uncover values.
Irrespective of how many methods, games, techniques, and algorithms we know, the transcultural perspective is in my view the most powerful coaching tool, especially for those of us who work and live in an ethnically varied society typical for modern cities attracting capital from around the world.
Acknowledgments: Many thanks to E.K, my former client who gave permission to use her story as a vignette for this brief paper.