Philalethes Ah! if it were only a conviction based on insight. Then one could bring arguments to bear, and the battle would be fought with equal weapons. But religions admittedly appeal, not to conviction as the result of argument, but to belief as demanded by revelation. And as the capacity for believing is strongest in childhood… If, in early childhood, certain fundamental views and doctrines are paraded with unusual solemnity, and an air of the greatest earnestness never before visible in anything else; if, at the same time, the possibility of a doubt about them be completely passed over, or touched upon only to indicate that doubt is the first step to eternal perdition, the resulting impression will be so deep that, as a rule, that is, in almost every case, doubt about them will be almost as impossible as doubt about one’s own existence. Hardly one in ten thousand will have the strength of mind to ask himself seriously and earnestly – is that true?
These days, cultural conditioning often still appears hard to overcome and this phenomenon is certainly not limited to religion. However, the challenge is not as insurmountable as Schopenhauer believed.
Neuroscientific findings have confirmed that our brains do have remarkable plasticity (Hebb, 1949; Bliss & Lomo, 1973; Gazzaniga et al., 2019; McKay & Smith, 2021). Mental agility is widely available rather than being restricted to an elite. It is easy to understand that, had we been born with our same genes in a different cultural context, we would have learned other cultural habits. It is liberating to realise that we can still do so! We can learn from various cultural traditions, with a mind that is both open and critical.
Likewise, the potential for direct and indirect communications, or directive and consensual leadership, has been present all along, even if only one of the preferences has been activated in us for each cultural dimension. Cultural habits can be unlearned, relearned and most of all continuously enriched by enlarging our cultural repertoire (e.g., communicating both directly and indirectly, combining hierarchy and equality). In D&I 2.0, the underused cultural potential is revealed by engaging with colleagues with opposite cultural preferences. In D&I 3.0, it is brought to light by acquiring knowledge about the existence and the merits of contrasting cultural preferences, even if these are not explicitly present in the team.
Combining D&I 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0
Successive levels of D&I go together with increased complexity. Mastering D&I at the previous level is needed to effectively work at the next level. For example, if prejudice and discrimination still exist, it is unlikely that different viewpoints will be accepted, let alone celebrated. Combatting prejudice and discrimination (D&I 1.0) will pave the way for this acceptance but will usually be insufficient to promote creativity and innovation. The reverse is not true though: in my experience, D&I 2.0 and D&I 3.0 interventions also have a positive impact at the D&I 1.0 level. It is not by chance that a transgender participant chose one of our sessions to come out. Even though we had not explicitly addressed the theme of sexual orientation, we had promoted a safe climate of deep inclusion. However, this was possible because we were working from a foundation of existing implicit acceptance of diversity and readiness to be inclusive.
Intercultural coaching applies to all forms of diversity. Systematically weaving a cultural perspective into coaching represents a formidable opportunity to deploy the human potential in its rich cultural diversity, even when these cultural differences are still latent rather than unfolded.
In practice, intercultural coaching for D&I combines D&I 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0 as appropriate and necessary in the situation. Interventions can draw from a range of disciplines and be tailored to clients’ unique contexts. Intercultural coaching allows us to be more ambitious in what we can all expect from D&I programmes, by unleashing the full richness of diversity.
A previous version was published in the January 2022 edition of Coaching Perspectives, the global magazine of the Association for Coaching. Published here with kind permission of the Executive Editor, Hetty Einzig.