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The Key to Creating a Healthy Coaching Environment

Updated: May 30, 2023

ICI Coaching, Part 1

Unlocking motivation helps you create a Third Cultural Space in which a coaching relationship can thrive.

There are a number of elements involved in creating a successful coaching relationship, and a lot of them have to do with building rapport and trust. While rapport and trust are essential to the coaching relationship, good rapport on its own is not enough. Nor is it enough that the person you are coaching trusts that you as the coach have his or her well-being at heart. Rapport and trust on their own do not guarantee that you will arrive at your mutually intended destination at the end of your journey together.

As a coach, you need to create an environment which encompasses both the starting point in your coaching journey with your "coachee", and your intended destination, your goal. We call this environment the Third Cultural Space. It is neither your personal cultural space, nor that of your coachee. If you restrict the coaching relationship to the personal cultural space with which either of you are familiar or comfortable, then your goal for the coaching journey may remain just beyond your reach, because you are both intent on navigating different spaces.

The key is Inter-Cultural Intelligence. The ICI framework and tools provide clues and insights that give us a foundation on which to build a Third Cultural Space, which is critical in today's inter-culturally complex and global world. As we explore the coaching relationship in this ICI Coaching series, we will take a much closer look at the Third Cultural Space in another article. For now, we will take Motivation as the starting point in the coaching journey.

Motivation is the starting point

Why is this person here? What motivates your coachee to be in the room with you as a coach? Establishing motivation is just one application of the Three Colors of Worldview, one of the ICI tools. Using a basic knowledge of the Three Colors of Worldview we can already paint some very general, broad brush strokes that will help establish motivation and refine the goals for our coaching journey. The psychometric assessment, building rapport, and creating trust can help fill in the gaps with more detail as you get to know your coachee.

The Innocence-Guilt paradigm

Broadly speaking, if your coachee comes to the coaching relationship from a more Innocence-Guilt oriented culture, very likely he or she will have cognitively thought through and rationalized compelling reasons as to why they want you to coach them. Perhaps they want to "do the right thing". Perhaps they think "the time is right" in their career to get some coaching. Perhaps their boss thinks it’s the right thing to do; or, there is a compelling motivator related to promotion.

Typically, if someone is more Innocence-Guilt oriented, a lot of deductive reasoning, cause-and-effect thinking, or analysis has already taken place before they sit down. They've asked themselves some "hard questions" (that's typically a phrase you might hear). Or, they were asked compelling questions, and those hard questions caused them to think more about entering the coaching relationship with you. So, there is typically a somewhat cogent rationale, one they are usually willing to articulate.

As a coach you would use their stated rationale to come along side them, and to draw them out further. Ask questions like, "So, what do you want to get out of this relationship?" Or, "Where do you want to take this?" Such questions begin to move them from their familiar cultural space into the broader, deeper Third Cultural Space.

The Honor-Shame paradigm

If your coachee comes to the coaching relationship from an Honor-Shame point of view, then their motivation could be very different. At face value it could look similar, but they are quite likely looking at you as a coach and asking themselves the question: "How is this engagement between me and the coach -- indeed, having a coach at all -- going to enhance my honor, either with my colleagues or boss, or within my family or social circles?"

One of our facilitators was coaching a more Honor-Shame oriented gentleman, and in his family it was seen as something honorable to have a business coach. His father applauded it, and that was a positive motivator for him.

But sometimes the flip-side is true: there could be a negative motivator from a business point of view. Maybe the coaching process is prescribed by a boss in order to give the coachee a chance to fix something; that might introduce an element of shame to the coaching relationship. Typically, there will be a reluctance to articulate this, either by the coachee or the boss.

As a coach, you must figure out the motivators and de-motivators. And figure out how you can create an environment in which they know for sure that you won't shame them. Confidentiality is usually a given, but trust in you to deliver it becomes even more important. You must strive to create a "safe" environment, where "safe" means that the coachee knows you will respect and value his honor.

One of the goals in an Honor-Shame oriented coaching relationship could be to demonstrate honor through character – as something that grows from the inside, rather than something that only lives on the outside as a veneer.

The Power-Fear paradigm

It might be that the person in front of you is highly motivated, because they believe that allowing you into a coaching relationship with them will equip them to become "more powerful". Rising above their peers in some way, or extending their reach in some way, could be the primary motivator for entering the coaching relationship.

In a Power-Fear oriented coaching relationship, a coachee typically says, in effect, "Give me a reason to trust you, show it to me." When that's the case, you as a coach will have to create an environment where they are allowed to be powerful -- in "a good way". Power can be exercised in both a fear-creating manner and in an empowering, life-giving manner. You as a coach must navigate these, both modelling the exercise of power in an empowering manner, and providing the opportunities for its exercise in a healthy manner by the coachee. To some degree, this would also be true in an Honor-Shame oriented coaching relationship.

Creating the Third Cultural Space in that coaching relationship is very much about using power in a healthy and positive way, so that they may in turn create a culture where power can be exercised in the right way. Some fear may be part of the equation - the boundaries of the relationship must be made very clear, and warnings may have to be given about the repercussions of crossing those boundaries. But you should stress that those boundaries are in place to help your coachee thrive in the coaching relationship and to move forward, toward the coaching goal.

Applying the Three Colors of Worldview

Of course, no-one is purely oriented to the Innocence-Guilt, Power-Fear, or Honor-Shame paradigms. Creating a Third Cultural Space is not a clinical exercise, and building rapport is an essential part of the coaching relationship. In most coaching relationships, all three paradigms are evident in one way or another. However, it is likely that one of the paradigms will provide the primary drives or motivators of your coachee. It is important to tap into those motivators, and keep de-motivators from raising their ugly heads; because de-motivators shut down the coaching relationship and extinguish the desire to reach the goal and grow.

Read our second article on Inter-Cultural Intelligence coaching here.


If you would like to learn more about applying the Three Colors of Worldview within a coaching relationship, please contact us.



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