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Workplace Coaching and the Third Cultural Space

Updated: May 12, 2023

The essence of the coaching journey is the establishment of a third cultural space

Establish your third cultural space early in the coaching relationship, making sure that it reflects something of those you coach as well as something of yourself.

Laying the foundation for your Third Cultural Space

The essence of the coaching journey is the establishment of a Third Cultural Space between you and those you coach. A Third Culture Space is not the culture of a single individual involved in the process; or a culture handed down from corporate planners or best practice books. A Third Culture Space is a well-conceived, cohesive culture that is forged as a group, where each member has a new-found understanding of themselves and each other that enables his or her active involvement.

This is vital in an intercultural environment. But there are a couple of key thoughts to consider first: How do you make sure that the way you create that Third Cultural Space, or the nature of the space, is not defined by your coaching philosophy, nor defined by what you feel comfortable with? Rather, how do you make sure it reflects both you and those you coach?

Your first meeting or two with those you are coaching are incredibly important, since that is when you will lay the foundation of your third cultural space. You must listen, but you must also gently probe and guide. If you do this well, you will be able to achieve one of your preliminary goals quite quickly: establish a relationship of trust. The coaching journey will go nowhere without trust. For more about establishing trust, read Trust and the workplace coaching journey.

At the same time, you must have a framework to understand what you learn as a coach when you are listening and probing. Our ICI Framework prepares you as a coach to understand and engage with people that have different worldviews, different cultural drivers, and different core motivations.

Both Three Colors of Worldview and 12 Dimensions of Culture provide coaches with categories, tools, and insights needed to sketch out an appropriate third cultural space. Coaches need to listen with “ICI-ears” from the outset. Getting culturally attuned to those you coach is something of a “dance”; and it requires some skill and experience. But once you sketch out your third culture space and establish it together, it will be much easier to navigate challenging situations as they arise.

Populating your third cultural space

In a recent article we talked about personal motivations that are deeply influenced by, if not caused by, cultural factors and nuances. In Coaching that taps into cultural drivers we discussed the Three Colors of Worldview and the role played by our unique blend of worldviews and cultural drivers.

These cultural considerations are vital if you are to understand the personal cultures of those you are coaching in an intercultural context. Cultural drivers have a significant influence upon behaviors and interactions in the workplace.

The understanding of cultural dimensions is also vital in the establishment of your third cultural space. You must use Inter-Cultural Intelligence to establish a space that allows each person to perform and thrive at their best, regardless of their cultural drivers and preferences. Recognising different drivers and preferences in others, and using that knowledge to build better relationships, is a learned skill.

But you also need to populate the Third Cultural Space with specifics, if you are to understand and influence workplace behavior subsequently. As you populate it, continue to use the ICI framework and tools as lenses to interpret what each person brings into the space. For example, those you coach should bring some specific things to the space during their coaching journey: things like goals, and aspirations, and interactions they feel are positive.

Here you can use a common tool or convention to get going, the Wheel of Life. The Wheel of Life notes eight important areas of life (represented by sections of the circle): Finances, Career, Family, Social Life, Health, Recreation, Spiritual Life, and Personal Development.

Of course, the discussion of these categories is often the basis for any relationship, and the coaching relationship and journey is no different. However, discussions like this are not merely social or academic, to be filed away as notes of interest. Through our intercultural research, we believe they are all interconnected and impact behavior in the workplace as well as relationships within teams.

We also believe that the interconnectedness is rarely stressed in coaching; and that some categories are often overlooked or dismissed when the emphasis is, for example, "performance coaching" or "career-path coaching".

Wheel of Life theory would suggest that developing only two or three sections leads to having a very clunky wheel. The same is true of the coaching journey. Coaching (even focused coaching like “Performance Coaching”) must not neglect different aspects that make up each of us.

A large part of what makes us who we are, especially as it relates to behavior in the workplace, is cultural, and related to our personal blend of worldviews and cultural drivers. Certainly, in our increasingly global and inter-culturally complex workplaces, it is clear that there are complex cultural elements that any coach must recognize, understand, and address! Quickly becoming the global preferred choice for Inter-Cultural Intelligence development, KnowledgeWorkx promotes mutual understanding of other cultures and perspectives in the workplace, and helps teams to develop the intercultural capacity necessary to thrive in a globalized world.



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