COACHING IN BLACK AND WHITE

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The coaching context invites conversation at different levels from the environment at the outer level to the middle level of skills and capability right into the soul of the coachee at the level of beliefs and identity. In South Africa our collective identities are very informed by the outer circle of the South African social environment. As coaches we find ourselves mediating deeper issues at an identity level through the lens of race and increasingly gender. A good coach strives to make the coachee psychologically safe towards enabling a trusting relationship which is a requisite for coaching effectiveness. What is the role of race in creating a sense of psychological safety in the South African coaching context? I believe our competence and integrity as coaches compels us to be aware of how race shows up in our coaching context and requires us to notice this dynamic in ways that could be helpful. As coaches, Black or White, do you notice race dynamics in your coaching context and how do you respond to it?

The psychodynamic notion of transference and counter transference is a useful lens to explore the race dynamic as a coach. Transference is an unconscious process where the coachee projects onto the coach positive or negative feelings and beliefs and behaves towards the coach accordingly. Imagine a Black coachee feeling hostile towards his White coach because of his negative experience and beliefs about White people. The White coach in turn could display counter transference by taking on a paternalistic approach of setting the coachee straight so he knows who is in charge or otherwise react with hypersensitivity and apology. Neither position is useful for the coachee.

Likewise, imagine a Black coachee coming into a conversation feeling inadequate and looking up to the White coach because his experiences of White men is coloured by his experience of authoritarian White bosses. The Black coachee could project deep admiration looking up to the coach as the expert solution-provider. This power dynamic could play out in all coaching relationships but might be especially present in the context of multi-cultural coaching. The White Coach in this case might unconsciously fulfil the coachees need by imparting lots of prescriptions and information which the coachee might well find extremely useful. However, this is perpetuating a power relation instead of challenging and moving to a new behavioural interaction which the multicultural coaching provides an excellent opportunity and space for learning.

Coaching the Past-Present and Future

Recently, the racial intolerance prevalent in the USA recently surfaced dramatically in the police killing of two Black men. The USA is a country that projects an image of equality and justice for all, irrespective of race and religion which is not necessarily the experience of minorities. Historically, the USA has been at the forefront of multicultural counselling and yet still remains plagued by underlying racism.

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