I have been coaching more recently, and with a wide variety of clients from different backgrounds and nationalities. This spurred some reflection.
I practice Linguistic Empathy and I expect you to do the same. Please bear with me if my English is not perfect.
The picture you see at the top of this article is the background I have during many of my coaching sessions. It is one of the kitchen walls in my house in Tuscany. I have made it a point this year to spend as much time as possible there. And since I mostly work online, it does not really matter where I am physically sitting when I coach.
What has become increasingly interesting, however, is what the background my clients see through my webcam tells me of their culture and their personalities.
I usually do not volunteer details on my position, mood or other personal stuff, nor do my clients generally ask. If they do, I give a quick answer and shift the focus on them.
Changing background to the coaching session
What happened with this background, though, was quite interesting. It started with an Italian client I have been coaching for a while and who had never had a session from Tuscany. When he saw the background he got excited, and asked me about the collection of old objects he saw behind me. Someone in his family had the same passion, so he loved to talk about it.
Another Italian client, whom I considered a bit more controlled than the previous one, noticed my new background and asked me where I was, something he had never done before.
At that point I started paying attention to the other clients’ reaction to my countryside wall. A Palestinian lady was all smiles and little cries of joy when she saw the distinctive cups made in Hebron with the names of my family members.
I had thus had three clients who spontaneously had shown interest in my background and had taken time from the session to talk about it.
The next client I coached from that position was Dutch. When the session started, he did not blink. He was absolutely oblivious to whatever surrounded me. I knew him as a practical man and my experience with people of Dutch culture is that they do not waste much time in chitchat but love to go straight to the point.
I was curious about the client from New Zealand. In our previous sessions she had shown a perfect mixture of controlled personality and Mediterranean warmth. When the session started, though, she did not seem to notice my background had changed, and went straight to the actions she had prepared for the session.
Another Italian client right after her immediately noticed that I was not in the usual room, and gave a little enthusiastic cry when she saw the stoned wall. She knew I love my house in Tuscany more than any other place in the world, and rejoiced at the idea of seeing me happy.
Back to a less colourful background
I recently came to Geneva where my husband is temporarily working, so my background in the coaching sessions has changed again. With a couple of the above-mentioned clients the programme is over, but others have already been coached from my Geneva kitchen. They did not seem particularly attracted or distracted by my background this time. And I found this very interesting.
I know my sample is very little so I write this more as a fun and light reflection than a scientifically based conclusion :-), but it was obvious that that particular background elicited a different reaction in my clients. Was it the stones? The collection of old items? The cups and glasses that “made home”?
I see a lot of symbolism here, a spur to react based on familiar objects, a warm environment, or a very different one.
On the other hand, it was only the Italians and the Palestinian lady who openly reacted to my background and talked about it. The other two, coming from possibly more controlled cultures, were not struck by this change and by the unusual image that showed up on their screens.
Of course, I am not talking about culture only. Each one of these clients has her/his own personality, temperament, and character. My point is that coaching opens up a whole and limitless world of feelings, reflection and enrichment. Just see what came out of a simple background! And I am stopping here because I am told long posts are boring, but I would have much more to develop on this subject…