Understanding coaching in cross-cultural work settings

June 8, 2010 at 11:06 am Leave a comment

by Miguel Corona

The other day I came across this article on the Coaching Commons website, which asked the question: would knowing a person’s cultural history help you coach them? According to a new study featured in the article, understanding another’s culture can make a difference in effective coaching strategies. As shared by the study’s authors and by my previous posts, culture is an important element that forms a person’s identity. Hence, by understanding one’s culture, a manager or supervisor can gain a better understanding of their behaviors especially in a work setting. Given today’s multi-cultural workforce, the ability to develop employees by fully tapping and recognizing their talents is essential. 

In working with managers over the last year, I’ve noted that their biggest challenge in understanding cultural differences is not the different backgrounds, experiences, values, or languages, of their employees, but it’s in understand their own culture. Put differently, some of the managers that I’ve work with filter expectations and meanings based on their own experiences. This has the potential for creating a number of perceived dilemmas. How? By supervising employees or interns based solely on their own cultural perspective, a manager might assume it’s the employee that might be having an issue. Since managing an intern depends in part to one’s cultural perspective, a potential barrier to an intern’s progress might be related cultural differences rather than behavior. 

This is why my advice to managers supervising or coaching recent Hispanic college graduates has always been the same. Cultural awareness is not only about understanding your own culture, but also understanding that your culture will probably be different than the person you’re supervising. Furthermore, cultural awareness, especially in a supervision context, is more than realizing another culture might be unlike your own; it’s about learning to appreciate that other culture. Often times it’s culture that dictates your behavior – often times without you knowing. For example, it impacts the way you communicate, your body language, and how you manage conflict. By understanding that your culture influences your viewpoints and perspectives, you’ll decrease the likelihood of misinterpreting an employee’s behavior.

If you’re working with Hispanic interns in your organization, I’d encourage you to place a greater focus on understanding your culture as well as that of your intern’s. This is especially important if you’re in a supervisory role. I’ve hopefully explained why developing cross cultural awareness has much in common with building rapport in a coaching situation. For supervisors, it’s not only about understanding another’s culture but also about understanding their own.

Entry filed under: diversity, intern management. Tags: , , , , .

Q. What should I do if our intern isn’t meeting the goals set at the beginning of the internship? Q. Is it permissible to survey the staff for opinions on an intern’s performance and attitude?

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This blog is dedicated to employers with a focus on how to hire and manage interns effectively. We will have a variety of experts who will share helpful ideas, tips and more. We invite you to comment, ask questions and share your experiences. You are also welcome to submit written contributions to this blog.

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