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The Coaching Corner Blog

From the ashes arise the Phoenix: An Essay on Creating Space for Cultural Sensitivity Coaching

Updated: Jun 5, 2020

It goes without saying that the last few weeks have been emotionally and physically exhausting for everyone, and more specifically for African Americans. From the Covid-19 pandemic’s disproportionate impact on Black and poor communities, to profiling people of color in public places, and the unfortunate murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd, the world is reeling with frustration, disbelief, anger, and grief. The United States, particularly, is in a condition of civil unrest and enthralled in violent riots that are infiltrating peaceful protests about injustices and racial inequality. Many of us are seeking ways to help and/or heal. Unfortunately, many coaching professionals do not know how to help or what healing looks like, yet, in the context of coaching. Coaching, as we know, is not therapy or counseling. But coaches are still feeling deep emotions and some degree of helplessness when this topic is presented. Our nation is ablaze, and people are in pain. Although coaching is not therapy it is therapeutic, and we can and should use it to help people through this condition. Furthermore, what we are seeing and experiencing both directly and indirectly is seeping into many coaching sessions. For me, this is an opportunity to help a Phoenix rise out of the ashes.

As a certified ICF coach and business owner, who is a person of color and female, I have found myself in a strange conundrum. I am juggling between helping coachees (both Black and White) work through their thoughts and feelings, while holding space for myself to unpack my own emotions and experiences. I have given in to my emotions on social media a few times (not a proud moment). I have felt temporarily withdrawn and raw (not helpful for a coach, but I am human). But this Process has helped me tap into my creative mind. I am glad that I realized if I do not do something constructive, I will fail myself and others. It has not been easy to climb out of my mental darkness, spawned from knowing the plight of people who look like me continue to endure brutality and oppression since the first slave ships docked in American ports to the present day. Through being determined to find a glimmer of hope, I was able to discover something meaningful out of the ashes of my despair. I call it Cultural Sensitivity Coaching (CSC). While CSC is not necessarily a new concept, it is a unique approach within coaching. It has more visibility in the therapy/counseling space. Likewise, the American Psychological Association provides guidance to clinicians on being culturally sensitive. CSC has roots in diversity and inclusion training, cultural sensitivity training, and aspects of mindfulness development. So, the concept exists and is empirically supported. However, with what is currently going on (and to find meaning for myself) I allowed myself the opportunity to refine the concept of cultural sensitivity within coaching and give birth to a coaching method inclusive of understanding the impact negative cultural experiences have on how Black people accomplish goals, aspirations, or take action.

Through my climb out of my mental darkness during the Covid-19 pandemic and the current racially charged events, I coined the term Cultural Sensitivity Coaching (CSC). My goal is to bring the CSC concept into the light and begin the journey of making it useful within the coaching industry. The working definition I have thus far is a method of coaching that incorporates cultural sensitivity to facilitate the coaching process and hold space for how a coachee defines and experiences their social identity in order to optimize the coachee’s full potential. As I read through the coaching and counseling literature, I am likely to fine-tune the definition. For now, it fits based on my current understanding of the literature and my research study on help-seeking behavior (See: Understanding Help-Seeking Intention and Awareness of Martial Support Resources in Married African Americans, ProQuest 13880766).

CSC involves being sensitive to the coachee’s experiences as seen through the lens of cultural uniqueness and social identity. The output of these experiences may impact feelings, and/or emotions and by association, behavior. Therefore, CSC uses the coaching process to help the coachee identify how he/she/they want to make use of what comes up during the coaching session as it relates to the lens of their cultural uniqueness and social identity. CSC must incorporate active listening, empathy, non-judging, openness, and experimentation as fundamental coaching competencies or components. It requires the coach to be more of an ally and less of a devil’s advocate when a coachee expresses concerns around cultural or social identity. There must be focus on supporting the coachee in the decision-making process of what to do with feelings or thoughts associated with negative social experiences (real or imagined) due to culture, race, or ethnicity. More importantly, a coach can use coaching methods to bring out actions within the coachee that helps the coachee courageously navigate different spaces where culture or social identity matters but go unappreciated when engaging others.

I see CSC as being a catalyst for transforming how we think about race or ethnicity within the context of the coaching relationship, and in the coachee’s personal or professional experiences. The type of transformation begins with how both the coach and coachee view culturally oppressive conditions (and the emotions and thoughts these conditions trigger). The coach must take the seat of observer and ally when making use of the coaching process to empower the coachee to confidently face or navigate issues or goals that are impacted by culture, race, or social identity if it comes up during a coaching session. As a coach, you may need to admit you do not have a frame of reference for your coachee’s experience of cultural oppression, racism, or bigotry. Nevertheless, you can still create a safe environment for your coachee to experiment, unpack and process what he/she/they perceive and feel. Meaning, you can be sensitive to the coachee’s cultural experiences, values, and beliefs. Then, you can use coachable moments to create new learning opportunities and new perspectives that allows the coachee to discover his/her/their voice, power, and strength.

I hope by sharing with you my framework for CSC, I will be able to make a difference for my culture and all of us as coaches can impact the coaching industry.

Thank you for allowing me to share.

Coach Dawn

CEO of Reid Ready Life Coaching, LLC

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