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How to Be a Culturally Competent Coach

Updated: Apr 1, 2021

Evelina Silveira, President Diversity at Work

“I’ve tried sending him to a workshop.” “I took the time out to show her how to do it.” 

"I got her a buddy."

"I coached her already."

I’ve heard these stories so often, concerning a valuable employee who the organization would prefer to retain. Everyone demonstrates good intentions, they seem to have attempted everything ,however, the employee is not recognizing the connections.

Periodically these understandings or misunderstandings can present huge hurdles in creating a positive and productive employee relationship.

When we coach recent immigrants or persons from a different cultural background we are often using a North American workplace as a reference point. Here is where the problem lies. The Coach is frequently asking the employee to conform to workplace standards they do not understand and in some cases may even devalue because they do not see them as part of a whole cultural package.

In a similar fashion, the employee possesses a completely conflicting point of reference when it comes to leadership and expectations.

How do we circumvent some of these hurdles?

1. The Coach must ask questions about the employee’s experiences in their country of origin, to comprehend the office culture they are accustomed (leadership style, employee relations, deadlines, business etiquette, etc.)

2. Through the guidance of the coach, the employee must develop an awareness of the reasons for the workplace standards and the benefits of adopting them.

The Coach and employee relationship must be predicated on openness with a sincere desire to foster understanding without judgment. Most intercultural coaching experiences fail due to either participant not understanding each other’s reference point. When the coach takes the time to sensitize themselves to employee’s experiences, they are better qualified to fill in the missing pieces and create a bridge to unite the two.

For example, if a coach discovers the employee comes from a culture where the manager acts more like a dictator --- this is useful information. It may explain why they are not participating in staff meetings or asking questions. In their country of origin, asking questions or disagreeing in a meeting may have been considered trying to upstage the boss. In this case the coach’s role would be to explain to the employee why participation is encouraged and show them how to can get involved.

I have worked with hundreds of New Canadians adopting this formula with much success. It is respectful and provides both the coach and the employee insights into one another’s culture which ultimately improves the employee’s performance and the coach’s leadership skills.

To learn more about this service and receive training

Evelina Silveira also coaches recent immigrants online and in-person. Learn about this service at

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