Embracing diversity in coaching
The power of a phenomenological approach
Wright, N. (2023), 'Embracing Diversity in Coaching - The Power of a Phenomenological Approach', Coaching & Life, 7 August.
‘Neurobiology can tell us a lot about a blink, but nothing about a wink.’ (Kenneth Gergen)
In coaching, while evidence-based practice and neuroscience offer some valuable insights, relying solely on them may have risks and limitations when working with diverse people and groups. These approaches often focus and draw on general principles and averages, which may overlook significant individual differences and unique experiences.
Instead, as a psychological coach who works internationally, I use a phenomenological approach. Phenomenology means understanding someone's experiences from their perspective, without judgment. It values subjective experiences and seeks to explore each person's world as they see it, respecting their cultural and personal backgrounds.
For example, consider a client from a different cultural background to the coach, who faces communication challenges. An evidence-based approach might suggest context-typical communication techniques, but a phenomenological approach would seek to understand the client’s cultural norms and preferences, leading to more effective outcomes.
Another scenario is a client struggling with anxiety who is unsure how to deal with it. Neuroscience might focus on brain mechanisms, but phenomenology would delve into the client's unique experiences of anxiety and the meanings they attach to it, including within their distinctive cultural group, enabling more tailored and empathetic support.
Or imagine a coaching client from an Eastern culture who faces challenges in a Western work environment. An evidence-based approach might focus on assertiveness training, but a phenomenological approach would first seek to understand the cultural influences on the client’s behaviour, leading to more culturally-sensitive strategies for change.
The phenomenological approach respects individuality and cultural diversity, making it a powerful and effective method for coaching diverse people and groups. For further brief case examples on using this approach, see: https://www.nick-wright.com/blog/crossing-cultures; https://www.nick-wright.com/blog/cross-cultural-coaching.