September 8, 2020

The Business Case for Intercultural Coaching

North Point Academy and KnowledgeWorkx, want to make a suggestion – the world needs more “human” humans.

As we are well past the dawn of the 21st century and the Fourth Industrial Revolution is in full swing we, at North Point Academy and KnowledgeWorkx, want to make a suggestion – the world needs more “human” humans.

With the ongoing impact of globalization, the growing signs of polarization, the information explosion, the unstoppable rise of artificial intelligence and self-learning technology, there is a massive increase in information, data and knowledge. It is here that we see a risk that our personal and professional lives will become more and more dehumanized. The Fourth Industrial Revolution will require us to ‘rise above the machines’ and increase our level of social, emotional and intercultural competence.

In our global and intercultural world, we believe a display of true humanity and rich interaction can only be achieved through a deeper intercultural awareness and ability to connect interculturally. Unfortunately, this is still a competence that is difficult to find. It is our core belief that Coaching infused with Inter-Cultural Intelligence (ICI), is part of the solution to bring the strength and beauty of humanity to the fore. Our desire is to see coaches equipped so that they can really empathize with and help their clients move forward within interculturally complex situations, whether in the public or private domain.

Understanding how ICI is different from other views of culture

Before we begin to explore how to define this new way of Interculturally Intelligent coaching, we need to make an important distinction – this distinction is the difference between cultural awareness, multicultural, cross-cultural and intercultural.

Cultural awareness can be a first step to deeper human connection, in that it gives knowledge about another culture but does not necessarily require engagement with that culture. Multicultural awareness goes one step further in that it introduces many cultures into the picture and gives a name to the description of people of different nations, ethnic and racial backgrounds. Finally, a cross-cultural perspective inherently includes the option to dive in and out of intercultural situations (A good example would be the ‘world-travelers’ who have visited certain countries many times but have never really engaged with the local context in an intercultural manner).

We believe coaches need to embrace an intercultural position.

This requires three changes:

1. First of all, I need to recognize that every human being is uniquely wired as a cultural human being. As an intercultural coach I should learn to both respect and see beyond nationality, ethnicity and race.

2. There is a crucial related shift for a coach that goes beyond this initial acknowledgement, I need to understand my own “self-culture”; then in this understanding become mindful of how my “self-culture” affects and interacts with the “self-culture” of other people around me – be it my client or those interacting with my client.

3. The third shift in perspective focuses on creating the intercultural coaching relationship (the “Third Cultural Space”). Creating the “Third Cultural Space” in the coaching relationship requires me to understand and recognize that both the coach and the coachee bring their unique cultural wiring into the relationship.

In order to conduct “clean” coaching that helps people be more “human”, coaches need to be true to themselves and others, operating within this intercultural mindset.

What’s different about Intercultural (IC) Coaching?

The true value of the coach is that they can empathize, understand, ask compelling questions and help a client drill into the depths of themselves to evaluate the impact they have on others and what’s going on inside. They can partner with their clients to explore the impact of their actions, what the client is thinking and feeling, what values or beliefs are behind the way someone operates and makes decisions.

With the assumption that most of our coaching clients are operating in intercultural environments, the norms, shared understanding, values and beliefs may vary dramatically between the coach and the client, and those around them. Therefore, to miss the intercultural aspect has the potential to create a massive blind spot. A lack of intercultural awareness is like a filter that removes the color of an image, so it remains only in black and white – the image of humanity is somehow reduced and is not the full picture. Intercultural awareness and the confidence to engage in an IC context should therefore be at the core of coaching.

There is, therefore, a key difference between the approach that others advocate and that of North Point Academy and KnowledgeWorkx. An intercultural coach does not start with national identity, ethnicity or race, but assumes that every person is a uniquely wired cultural human being; and this is a radically different place to start the coaching relationship.

The CIC Coaching Definition

For the purpose of pioneering the Certificate in Intercultural Coaching (CIC), North Point Academy and KnowledgeWorkx define an Intercultural (IC) Coach as:

“A coach who can create a Third Cultural Space in the coaching relationship that opens and facilitates transformational change.”


a) encourages stronger trust

b) clarifies perceptions and assumptions

c) produces richer conversation

d) deepens understanding

e) illuminates meaning

f) harvests powerful insight

Elements of the definition

a) encourages stronger trust

Creating and building trust in an IC relationship is very much defined by the interplay of the worldviews and cultural dimensions of the coach, client and those relating to the client. The commonality or difference in worldview and cultural dimensions will determine how trust builders operate. For example: how much openness is appropriate, how to show respect, exemplify reliability and practice honesty.

b) clarifies perceptions and assumptions

The IC coach does not start with national identity, ethnicity or race, rather they assume that every human being is a uniquely wired cultural human being.

c) produces richer conversations

An IC coach needs the tools and the language to have a conversation with the coachee around the coachee’s unique cultural wiring. It is incredibly powerful to use the Three Colors of Worldview (3C) and Twelve Dimensions of Culture (12D) tools as the main language of conversation and as a framework to analyze and interpret interactions/situations. The coach can both use these in coaching the client and also to assist the client to apply those same frameworks to relationships and situations around them.

d) deepens understanding

The true value of an IC coach is that their depth of intercultural knowledge, familiarity and flexibility helps them to empathize, understand, ask compelling questions, drill into the deeper details of why something happened and the impact it had on the situation and people involved. Using the North Point Meta-model (NPM – see North Point Academy coaching tools) helps them to dig deeper into the internal world of the client in terms of the beliefs and values, thoughts and feelings. The NPM also assists the IC coach to work with their client to discover how these manifest in the external world in terms of decisions made and actions taken in relationships and how these impact the situation.

e) illuminates meaning

In a situation where the coachee makes a statement that mixes up describing the situation, interpreting and attaching emotion, the coach can apply the DIR model (Describe, Interpret, Respond). The IC coach can see through the statements and help the coachee clarify why the statements might be made based on a limited IC understanding.

  • Slowing down and delaying the moment of interpretation and dwelling more on describing what happened will allow the coachee to put on an intercultural lens and discover the intercultural forces at play. It also allows for the delay of emotions triggered by early interpretation. As a result, the coachee can create a more nuanced and holistic intercultural perspective of the situation.
  • Assisting the coachee to describe the situation using the 3C and 12D, the IC coach can illuminate unhelpful cultural descriptions of an event. This way the coachee is taken back to the situation to discover a new perspective.
  • Deep knowledge of the 3C and 12D allows the IC coach to create deeper discovery and meaning in the moment.
  • An IC coach knows how to time the introduction of a tool and how to utilize it to equip the coachee to discover new insights and new ways forward.

f) harvests powerful insight

Coaches who apply Inter-Cultural Intelligence (ICI), will create the intercultural space in the coaching relationship faster, which in turn makes it easier to show vulnerability. Removing prejudice and distorting cultural filters takes away the emotional sting or bias, and any defensiveness that may result. It opens the way for creativity to be released and establishes greater freedom to brainstorm through “The Journey” (credit to North Point Academy – coaching tools). It also allows the coachee to come up with more options to consider as they articulate a way to mitigate, reconcile or avoid problems. This will result in actioning more effective solutions.

An example of the kind of coaching we have just defined comes from KnowledgeWorkx interactions with some coaches in South Africa. Initially, the coaches were seeing that the coaching relationship was hindered by ethnicity/race related biases and they were struggling to build trust and rapport with their coaches. The engagement was not strong and coaching conversations were guarded.

When the coaches were equipped to shift the focus to self-culture and use the Three Colors of Worldview and 12 Dimensions of Culture framework to talk about intercultural challenges, there was a huge shift. The approach led to a “neutralizing” of the language, calmed negative emotions and allowed trust to grow in coaching relationships. This resulted in longer and deeper coaching conversations that lead to volunteering more ideas/solutions with greater variety and creativity, and the coachee taking transformational action.

Disposition of an Intercultural Coach

An IC coach will successfully be able to apply ICI principles into their practice when the following mindset dispositions are fully embraced:

  • A culturally intelligent coach will hold firmly to the premise that every human being has their own unique cultural wiring (self-culture).
  • They will respect and enjoy difference.
  • Have a strong desire and ability to acquire intercultural understanding.
  • Hold the client’s influences and interests in the highest positive regard and therefore, accelerate and deepen the client’s learning.
  • The IC coach themselves will also be a cultural learner (not a cultural critic). They will see every IC relationship as an intriguing and insightful opportunity to learn about individuals and groups and how they interact and impact each other.
  • The IC coach will also be, as described in the language of North Point Academy, a “student of oneself” from an ICI point of view. The coach practices self-cultural analysis. This self-cultural analysis will mean a coach can speak with authority about their own cultural journey, their deep understanding of their own cultural wiring and how these were shaped over time.
  • Finally, the IC coach will be equipped to understand the personal cultural preferences of individuals they work with.


Developing a specialization in Intercultural Coaching is an exciting journey of discovery and first and foremost a journey into a deeper understanding and becoming a student of oneself.

With combined company experience of more than 25 years in Coaching and applying Inter-Cultural Intelligence in over 70 countries around the world, we believe the world needs more Inter-Culturally Intelligent Coaches. The world needs more bridge-builders, reconcilers and coaches who can equip their clients to create the third cultural space.

With the Fourth Industrial Revolution going into overdrive in the next 5 years, we believe IC coaches will play a crucial role in allowing us to become more ‘human humans’, equipping us for relational success and releasing effective teams in a global and interculturally complex world.

To learn more about the CIC program  visit the website.

Check out more articles on our KnowledgeWorkx Resource  page.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.