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Beyond Cultural Stereotypes:

Is There Something Else a Coach Should Know About?

Eugenia Tripputi

If I counted the times I have been asked to give a quick answer to the question "How do we coach multicultural clients," and transformed that inquiry into money, I would be rich! The reality is that, as much as I would like to give a quick response, the answer is complex.

In my academic teaching years, I was routinely invited to educate on the topic because - you guessed it - I am a minority. True, having to live as such and being a former therapist and current coach and trainer, has given me the edge of experience. But, to the disappointment of some of my participants, I usually spent little time focusing on talking about stereotypes: "Latinos do this, African Americans value that, Asians perform well on something else…" So, what I was going to talk about? What else was there to know?

While discussing this important subject, my focus has always been on two forgotten areas that I found to be crucial and definitely more useful, and here is why. Used wisely, stereotypes serve a purpose: they help us organize information. However, much has been written about conventional identifiers of racial minorities, and, I see little value in my repeating what seems to be common knowledge. However, few focus on the following: first, there is a difference between the racial generations born in this country and the ones who immigrated being born and raised in foreign lands. Second, immigrants go through a serious of adaptation steps that are part of a normal cycle of adjustment to a new culture that usually take years to work through to reach full integration and understanding of the country of residence.

Generational differences: From both research and personal observations, being an immigrant with two children born in the United States, I have noticed that these children go through their own sorting through of the numerous elements of "culture." Let's consider language, for example. To a child, in the early years, there is no differentiation between what is "English" and what is not. In their own little innocent brains, words are all part of one whole big language, and they pick and choose what words to use depending on the circumstances and who they are with. It makes sense, after all. Don't you do the same when you talk to your boss versus your partner at home?

In terms of customs, children do not become conscious of these differences until they start socializing, and, quite honestly, their friends begin making fun of them "being different," including their looks, the food they bring to school, the color of their clothing, and choice of music, just to name a few. Through years of experimentation, these first generation Americans sort through what they choose too adopt or what they do not. However, in my experience, parental influence has a great impact on their reactions - positive or negative - to the elements of the culture they have been exposed to. I have observed that the pendulum swings from being completely ashamed to being overly proud and protective. By the time these multi-cultural individuals get into young adulthood, they have already developed a sense of self and/or they have chosen a third group altogether. Reality is that, as Maslow has taught us, the sense of belonging is extremely engrained in all humans, and we will find it by doing whatever it takes!

The Immigrant: As newcomers to a country, immigrants not only bring some or all of the stereotypes they are known for but also go through a cycle that not many coaches and counselors pay attention to: Rejection, Absorption, and Integration. During the rejection phase, the individual responds to the unknown by staying with the familiar. He or she tends to hold on extremely tightly to the customs brought from the culture of origin, sometimes forming and expressing strong judgmental and, oftentimes negative, opinions about the practices of the new country. These can be perceived as "you think you are better than us" comments, but, do not be deceived: it is rooted in an effort to continue the sense of belonging.

Of course, this attitude is extremely isolative and cannot be sustained without eventually sinking into some kind of depression. So, not too long after that, the person begins trying out new behaviors from the new culture and, oftentimes, overdoing them in an effort to blend in, thus moving into absorption. Many go overboard... sometimes even refusing to continue to preserve their own traditions. This stage works for a while, but, particularly if the immigrant came after late childhood, a sense of void begins to appear. So, at some point, the person embarks on a journey into the final stage which is integration. If he or she has allowed herself to reach this level, the benefits are countless because there is now a choice: the individual can select from a rich pot of customs to keep from the country of origin and choose what to adopt from the new homeland.

Why is it important for a coach or a counselor to know about these two little-talked-about developmental areas? As with many other variables, they should be taken into account in any therapeutic treatment or coaching. They are processes in themselves that play a crucial role in the planning out, during treatment, and accomplishment of goals. Also, they are as inevitable as having to crawl before walking, and, as helping partners, we must meet our clients where they are and not where we want them to be.

For example, knowing about these internal processes might come in handy when you are hearing the "messages within the messages" your client is sharing. A client who is struggling with socialization might refuse to participate in a Halloween party because he or she is new to this county and has no idea about the significance of the holiday. The hesitance in the voice might be a reflection of lack of cultural understanding not the unwillingness to consider a brainstorming point.

In conclusion, if you are working with clients of other cultures, make a conscious effort to move beyond the typical racial stereotyping and consider that migratory status and the processes described, including how recently they have moved to this country and the related generational issues, have an undeniable influence in the way that they are able to move forward with their treatment or coaching program. Understood and managed appropriately, you can make these developmental milestones work for them!

For almost 20 years, Eugenia Tripputi has held several leadership and managerial positions creating and heading training, professional development, and human resources programs as well as has consulted for Fortune 500 corporations and non-profit agencies in the United States and Latin America. Her educational foundation includes a Masters degree in Counseling from Seattle University and a Bachelor's from California State University, Hayward, with a degree in Human Development. Eugenia's unique creations, including employee and career development resources, workshops on numerous topics, interpersonal communication tools, and innovative training materials, have earned her numerous awards and recognition. Her latest innovative products, "Talk to Me... I'm Human"™ Interpersonal Communication Tools and the Career Journey Toolkit ™, are a reflection of her commitment to providing individuals with practical products for personal and professional growth.

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