Beyond Cultural Stereotypes:
Is There Something Else a Coach Should
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
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 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,
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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