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The Power of Building an Authentic Cross-Cultural Relationship

By Sharon Brown and Steven Filante  February 23, 2015

The journey of two coaches—a Black woman and a White man—and the dynamic teaching partnership and friendship they co-created.

Sharon and Steven 022415We began as good coaches do. Or so we thought.

When we were paired as teaching partners for Leadership that Works’ 9-month coach certification training, Coaching for Transformation (CFT), we consciously discussed our strengths and growing edges, what we each needed, how we would each contribute, and so on.

But we didn’t talk about race. We didn’t discuss our cultural differences, and what that meant in our partnership. And so we stayed on the surface—as many people do cross-culturally. We made assumptions that were never checked out or challenged.

We went along this way until we delivered our first multicultural session in the course. Several of our students became really upset during that training day, and it was then we realized that we not only needed to learn how to support our students in doing deep cultural awareness work, we had to dive really deep ourselves.

So we started to take risks. Huge risks. To talk about the real-deal …to risk hurting and being hurt. To risk caring enough about each other, and about our partnership, and our students. To move beyond careful and to get really real.

We started talking about what it was really like for Sharon growing up, facing discrimination, and subtle, as well as blatant, episodes of racism. We talked about what it was like for Steven to grow up with wealth but to still feel like an outsider in his family and community. About Sharon’s years of internalized racism—feelings of inferiority, low self-esteem and powerlessness—as well as the richness of her family and extended family life and the perseverance of her working class parents and grandparents. We talked about Steven learning and admitting he never had to think of race and power, it was just like the air—you don’t notice it until there’s an absence of it. And then truly understanding the privileges associated with being white and male in this country.

And over time, we began to relax, and have fun and take even more risks—asking the questions that the politically correct or culturally naïve never think or dare to ask. And answering them for the sake of our mutual growth and deepening cultural awareness. Visiting each other’s homes, sharing with each other’s partners—letting careful drift away and true friendship form. And as this developed we noticed something equally beautiful happening in the learning communities we co-created with our students in CFT.

Now, on the first day of our CFT training, we make a point of welcoming everyone and all parts of each person. Our classes are very diverse and we want people to know from day one that all of their differences and uniqueness are welcome in the community we will co-create and share. We define culture in the broad sense and let people know up front that it includes race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age, ability, country and language of origin, religion, education, socio-economic status, and all of the other things that have people feeling separate and different.

We share vulnerably about our lives and about our journey to the cross-cultural partnership we now share. Steven trusts Sharon to notice and bring out cultural nuances that people of color may feel or notice, but that White people or foreign born folks may miss. Sharon is always appreciative when Steven talks openly about white privilege and his journey to a deeper awareness of it and its impact.

Perhaps most exciting of all is that as we grow and share vulnerably across cultural difference, our students take bigger risks and do the same. The result is a powerful and meaningful multicultural learning community that students find to be a unique, dynamic and valuable experience—and the friendships last beyond the training.

It is the same coaching skills we teach in Coaching for Transformation that provided us with the tools to take big risks for the sake of growth. It’s skills like starting from a place of curiosity and humility, assuming the other person has wisdom and gifts not yet seen. Fully accepting and valuing each individual. Giving full presence, listening deeply and asking the questions that help each person learn and stretch into more. It becomes about heart connection and a desire to see each person develop into the fullness of who they were meant to be and bearing witness to each other’s unfolding and empowerment.

We are committed to bringing these coaching skills to the world to support these deep, powerful authentic cross-cultural connections just like the one we formed and continue to help facilitate in our classes. We are part of creating a world that honors differences and sees the gifts in every individual. What will be possible for us as individuals and collectively as we take this out into the world? The collaborations and the possibilities for true personal and social change are endless!

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Learn coaching skills from this dynamic duo at the upcoming Coaching for Transformation coaching certification training that begins on March 7, 2015 at the New York Open Center. To learn more, contact the Open Center at 212-219-2527 ext. 2, or visit http://tinyurl.com/kubwwoh.

About the authors:

Sharon Brown resizedSharon Y. Brown, CPC, PCC is a Certified Professional Coach, who helps people achieve their professional and personal goals. Drawing on 25 years of corporate experience, she trains coaches and also teaches coaching skills in workplace, school and community settings that enhance communication and collaboration. Sharon is committed to coaching in support of social change and has developed a multicultural coaching curriculum. Listen to an interview with her on the blogtalk-radio show “The Heart of Healing”: http://tinyurl.com/knnf597

Steven Filante resizedSteven Filante, CPC, PCC is a Professional Certified Coach, an international coach trainer and mentor. Always open to new modalities and possibilities, Steven challenges his learners to include all parts of the human experience and bring these to coaching. He coaches small business owners and executives who need a coaching ally to translate their vision of change into the world. Steven designed and delivers Fire in the Heart, an advanced coach-training course.

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