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The Coach in Asian Society: Impact of social hierarchy on the coaching relationship

The Coach in Asian Society: Impact of social hierarchy on the coaching relationship

Martin Lavicka08 Nov 2014Leave a comment


Written by Jaroslava Kubátová

The Coach in Asian Society: Impact of social hierarchy on the coaching relationship. Lina Nangalia, Ajay Nangalia. International Journal of Evidence Based Coaching and Mentoring, Vol. 8, No. 1, February 2010, pp 51-66. Available online at http://ijebcm.brookes.ac.uk/documents/vol08issue1-paper-03.pdf

Coaching is one method of personal and professional development, which is widely used in companies. The International Coach Federation defines executive coaching as a continuous professional relationship that helps people to achieve outstanding goals in their lives, careers, businesses and organisations. Coaching helps clients to deepen their ability to study, to make their performance more effective and to rise quality of their life.[1]

The authors point out that leading figures in executive coaching come mainly from Western countries and the Western cultural ethos is also included in the cited definition. General rules of executive coaching derived from this definition and regarded as generally valid are as follows:

  1. Coaching is an equal relationship of a coach and a client.
  2. The coach must not give advice or tell the client what to do.
  3. Coaching focuses on the client’s issues without necessarily establishing a deeper coach – client relationship first.
  4. A client is an independent personality responsible for their actions and destiny.

If coaches use these rules to coach their clients from Asian cultures, they do not achieve favourable results. The authors point out that it so because the above mentioned definition and four coaching rules are in breach of values of Asian cultures. International coaches therefore have to adjust the coaching style when dealing with Asian clients.

Authors argue that Asian cultures share several similar features. They compare cultures of India, Japan, China and other countries in Southeast Asia. The cultural values of these countries are thousands of years old, therefore there is no reason to believe they could change quickly. These values are mainly the importance of family and groups, social hierarchy, the importance of long-term relations as a trust requirement and the importance of harmony.

The authors explore three research questions:

  • How does the social hierarchy prevalent in Asian culture influence the role and status of the coach?
  • What does a client expect from a coach and the process of coaching?
  • How do Asian coaches adapt coaching to suit their client’s expectations?

To answer the questions, the authors used a qualitative approach. They used a case study approach in which they interviewed ten coaches from various Asian countries. Interviews were semi-structured. The text presents transcripts of the most interesting parts of interviews. Based on analysis of the interviews and comparison with accessible literature, the authors reached the following findings:

  • An Asian client sees a coach as a respected person; as a teacher. From the perspective of social hierarchy, the coach is seen as a superior person.
  • A client expects coaches to share their wisdom and insight.
  • A client also expects a coach to provide guidance and offer advice and solutions.
  • A client prefers older, more experienced and more qualified coaches than he/she itself is.
  • An Asian client needs sufficient time to build a relationship with their coach. They trust their coach only after some time of building up a relationship.
  • A coach has to take into consideration that Asian clients think in very collectivist ways and they always favour group interests (family, company…)

Apart from these findings, the authors suggest possible ways how international coaches can deal with clients’ expectations. Coaches must respect clients’ expectations and adjust their methods to them. Otherwise they would lose the client’s respect.

Towards the end the authors stress that in all management methods including coaching, it is necessary to be aware of cultural values. If coaching is to be used when co-operating with people from Asian cultures, it must be adjusted to their cultural values. A Western reader may ask whether coaching according to the authors’ suggestions is still coaching or whether it is mentoring. This research nevertheless can definitely help managers and international team members to better mutual understanding and communication.


[1] International Coach Federation Retrieved October 20, 2014 from  http://coachfederation.org/ethics/

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