Intercultural experiences of South African business coaches
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Interactions between business counterparts have become increasingly free from boundaries, as technological innovation brings the world closer together (Adler, 2002). Locally, the typical South African organisation employs workers from a multitude of cultural backgrounds, at various levels of acculturation. Organisational coaches must be prepared to engage with diverse national and international client populations. Coaching bodies such as the Worldwide Association of Business Coaches (WABC, 2008) and the locally-based Coaches and Mentors of South Africa (COMENSA, 2009; COMENSA, 2010), require coaches to provide culturally responsive services to coachees. If the coach differs culturally from the coachee, he/she may incorrectly use his/her own understanding of what is appropriate for a situation to make sense of the coachee’s behaviour, possibly leading to the misinterpretation of the diverse coachee’s situation. In addition, the coach may also project his/her own cultural bias and stereotypes onto the coachee. This in turn may lead to barriers in communication, and ultimately to the inhibition of efficiency of the coaching process as possible outcomes. Inefficient coaching may not allow for the achievement of the desired results, leading to financial losses for the company. Therefore, it is imperative that the coach is aware of his/her own culturally-laden values, beliefs and expectations which may include biases, prejudices and stereotypes held about the coachee, i.e. his/ her cultural self-awareness. The purpose of the current research study was to explore and describe the experiences and perceptions of South African organisational coaches in terms of cultural self-awareness. Specifically the study investigated how eight South African organisational coaches (N = 8) develop, maintain and promote cultural self-awareness, and what the perceived consequences of such awareness were. The study was conducted within the constructivist research paradigm and utilised a qualitative research approach. The multiple case study research strategy employed in-depth interviews to collect the research data. A grounded theory research methodology was used to analyse and explore the experiences and perceptions of South African organisational coaches in developing and utilising cultural self-awareness. Eight findings were obtained from the interviews, namely: the cultural self-awareness cultivated during coaching developed as part of a general process of cultural self-awareness, which in turn formed part of the participants’ personal development; both intentional strategies and happenstance led to the coaches’ cultural self-awareness; situational and internal factors contributed to changes in their cultural self-awareness; cultural self-awareness is maintained through self-management involving internal and external strategies; future cultural self-awareness is promoted through pursuing experiences that would cause them to question bias; a change in cultural self-awareness held consequences for the personal developmental process as well as for the coachee, and the coaching process; the meaning of cultural self-awareness was explained by using metaphors. The most prominent metaphors the coaches used were ‘sight’, ‘the past’, ‘internal work’, and ‘managing’; additional psychosocial processes that occur during intercultural coaching which can be grouped under macro, meso and micro issues, contextualised the process of cultural self-awareness during intercultural coaching. The findings were interpreted to show that various levels, developmental paths, and applications of cultural self-awareness exist amongst organisational coaches. On the basis of the results obtained from the research study, recommendations were made for future research, coaching education and training programmes, coaching clients, and current or prospective coaches.