As a coach, what should I keep in mind when working with a client from a culturally diverse background? What steps should I use when working with an executive from another culture other than my own?

There are many things to know about working with clients from a cultural background different from our own. We live in a culturally diverse world. We may think that we understand someone who has a similar ethnicity or culture to our own. But how much they identify with it or incorporate it is pretty varied along the continuum of “completely” to “not at all.” 

The International Coaching Federation Code of Ethics (2021) refers to diversity in the following ways: 

  • Am aware of and actively manage any power or status difference between the Client and me that may be caused by cultural, relational, psychological, or contextual issues.  
  • Hold responsibility for being aware of and setting clear, appropriate, and culturally sensitive boundaries that govern interactions, physical or otherwise.  
  • Avoid discrimination by maintaining fairness and equality in all activities and operations while respecting local rules and cultural practices. This includes but is not limited to discrimination based on age, race, gender expression, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, national origin, disability, or military status. 

These are clear and appropriate standards to keep in mind regarding cultural issues if or when they arise but beforehand. One of the most helpful things that we can do as a coach is to be aware of our perspectives of what is considered “normal.” 

One example that I have tripped over a few times (I am ashamed to admit), and unfortunately, my education reinforced, was the idea of codependency and enmeshment in families. This dynamic was described as abnormal and unhealthy, mainly related to relationships between parents and their adult children. What I integrated as healthy was a highly independent and individuated relationship. Many cultures of clients who I have worked with see this as abnormal, namely in the more traditional Hispanic and Asian cultures. Through experience, I ask questions rather than assume what they see as normal and healthy within relationships and then examine how this relationship either helps or hinders their functioning. 

Another example of cultural differences occurs in communication. Though I am half Japanese and half Caucasian, my upbringing has been almost exclusively within the culture of the United States (whatever that means). But generally, as an American psychologist, assertive and direct communication is often encouraged and reinforced. Over the years, I have also learned (and have had to forgive myself for my ignorance) that many cultures interpret direct and assertive communication as disrespectful. What seems normal and healthy to me can be highly uncomfortable for a client without my upbringing. 

When working with an executive client from a culture that is different from our own, a very instructive model is the Delta Model (Tang, Yasa, and Forrester, 2004), which Hax and Wilde created. This model was developed due to the advancement in e-business and e-commerce with the creation of the internet. Rather than focusing on competitors, the Delta Model focuses on understanding the customer and the customer relationship. 

The three points on the triangle of the Delta Model include: 

  • Creating the best system/organization by linking strategy and execution for optimum effectiveness.  
  • Providing the best customer solutions/service by employing metrics and a feedback process.  
  • Developing and delivering the best product, again by using metrics and a feedback process.  

When working with an executive from a culture different than our own and within the context of the Delta Model, we want to make sure to maintain awareness of our own beliefs and perspectives. Our goal is to have an objective understanding of our client. Again, if we are unsure about something, be sure to ask. 

In reviewing the overall functioning and effectiveness of the executive’s organization, be mindful of their thoughts, beliefs, and ideas regarding what “optimum” would be. These ideas obviously may be different than our own. In alignment with a Humanistic theoretical orientation, strive to maintain empathy, unconditional positive regard, and congruence. 

In regards to providing the best possible customer service, find out what their vision is for this. Different cultures interact in many varied ways with differences in communication, body language, eye contact, deference, respect for the elderly, etc. It will be essential to ensure the appropriate policies, procedures, training, messages, and mission statements align with this vision. Having metrics to understand who their customers are and a feedback process to understand their thinking, wants, and needs can help provide optimum customer service. 

Considering creating the best product, getting metrics can assist the organization in understanding trends, and feedback can certainly benefit product development and innovation. Keeping diversity in mind in hiring practices (Maguire, 2019), attitudes, perspectives, modeling, and the organization’s culture, can support the organization to thrive in a rapidly changing global economy. 


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Maguire, S. (2019). Diversity beyond lip service: A coaching guide for challenging bias, Booklist 115(18), 6. 

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