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Business, Culture Edition What we have in common


By: Christopher Paterson •  4 years ago •  


In an increasingly globalised and technologically integrated landscape, the coach is now being asked to facilitate success for individuals from increasingly diverse cultural backgrounds. This engagement may be face to face or perhaps remotely via video conference – which in itself adds another level of complexity.

There are two key ways to navigate this challenge:

  1. Build a coaching style that accounts for all of the human nuances and cultural differences that we encounter.
  2. Look at the commonalities that we all share and ensure that the fundamentals are managed well.

In this article, I will focus on the second approach. This is the foundation that needs to be in place before more advanced coaching skills become relevant.


Regardless of culture, background, experience, personality or age, there are certain commonalities that tie us together as a species. Understanding these allows us get to the heart of human performance in any arena.

A centre point is the Yerkes–Dodson law of performance and arousal; however, I recommend substituting the term ‘arousal’ for ‘pressure’ in your workplace. This shows that when pressure is low, we feel safe but as a consequence do not feel particularly stimulated and as a result do not operate at our best. However, when the ideal amount of pressure is applied, we reach our optimum performance level. This is when we do our best thinking, produce our best output and learn the most.

When additional pressure is then applied, as is the current norm, our overall performance suffers, our problem-solving is compromised, our creativity and innovation vacates and we experience an elevated anxiety level. This is not the ideal environment for learning and growth.

Recent lessons learned from neuroplasticity, neuro-leadership and wellness research identify the specific ways in which you can create the right environment. Using these lessons, you can pinpoint development ‘sweet spot’, for your clients and facilitate a shift in their cognitive capacity and thought patterns.

3 lessons to build a learning environment:


The region at the front of the brain is called the pre frontal cortex [or PFC]. It is responsible for learning, memory, decision-making and problem-solving. Therefore, if our clients are going to break new ground, learn new methods and solve problems, we need their PFC to be at its best.

A common barrier that we face however is that our PFC tires quickly. In fact, we only have around 2-3 hours of maximum PFC capacity per day. This is important to understand if we are going to get the most out of our brain on a daily basis. A key point to learn is to do the most challenging and difficult tasks early in the day when the brain’s resources are at their maximum.

From a coaching point of view, sessions that require the most brain power are going to be more effective in the morning when you have more PFC to work with. That’s not to say that we can’t learn after 3pm, it’s just going to be neurologically harder for new information to be absorbed and applied.


Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that acts like a narcotic and is associated with motivation, reward and pleasure. From a learning perspective, Dr Martha Burns calls dopamine the brain’s “save button”; because when it’s released, we remember what we learn.

Strong coaches are regular pushers of this drug by using praise and positive reinforcement with their clients. They harness the power of dopamine by creating stimulating learning environments that wire their clients for knowledge acquisition, problem-solving and creative thinking.

On the other side of this equation, when we feel threatened either through fear, uncertainty, loss of control or intimidation; the brain goes into ‘fight or flight’ mode. This significantly reduces our ability to learn, solve complex problems or come up with new creative ideas. As a coach, your task is to create an environment which is safe, positive and rewarding.

The reward and threat triggers for each individual will differ, so it’s important to take the time to understand these triggers and tailor your coaching toward elements that will stimulate a dopamine response and avoid a threat response. Examples include: gamification, clear coaching outcomes, hands on activities that engage clients, and immediate application of learning on the job.


One commonality that we observe is a decreasing mental and physical wellbeing for staff across the board. It is a worrying global trend, a terrible commonality regardless of where you are on the planet. In Australia, 73% of workers report such a level of stress and anxiety that it is having the negative impact on their health and the financial impact of this current state of mental health conditions on Australian businesses is AUS$11 billion per year [PWC].

This is not a new phenomenon and is a trend which is getting steadily worse. For the coach to be successful in this environment, a holistic approach to coaching is required; one that accounts for mental, emotional and behavioural wellness.

As such, we have built a wellness model called Wellness@Work™ of which the behavioural component of this is defined by the 6 cylinders of wellness™. By engaging in a conversation about these wellness behaviours at the start of the programme with new clients, we are able to facilitate their wellness plan in parallel with their development plan. Furthermore, an online wellness check at the beginning and at the end of the programme keeps clients accountable and provides us with the evidence that we need to assess the impact that this is having.

Our research study in 2014 showed that by focusing on wellness, clients were able to reduce their stress levels by 8% and their workload pressure by 16% in 6 weeks, and, as a result, were able to make better decisions on the job. These had statistically significant results at .05 and .01 confidence levels respectively (for the statisticians among us!).

These three lessons combined allow the coach to find the client’s development ‘sweet spot’, giving them the best chance of making lasting changes no matter their background, location or cultural tendencies.

The already frenetic and stressful environments that we operate in are forecast to increase in complexity, pace and disruption. Clients and coaches are being asked to be agile and collaborate with increasingly diverse teams.

We have found that understanding the fundamentals of human neurology, behaviour and performance has allowed us to understand the commonalities that bind us and to facilitate success across cultures and regions.

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