Cultivates Trust and Safety

Posted On: February 13, 2021

ICF Core Competency 4: Cultivates Trust and Safety

Written by: Jennifer Kumar (Managing Director, head Coach of Authentic Journeys) 

[00:00:00] Let’s take a deep dive into Core Competency number four, cultivating trust and safety. I’m Jennifer Kumar from Authentic Journeys, as I have coined myself a cross-cultural coach for over a decade, close to 15 [years] now. This series will focus on dissecting these competencies also from a cultural perspective or a cross-cultural perspective, which I feel is pertinent to the new competencies because I believe when these were created, they were really looking at updating them with more of an eye toward cultural competency. So it might fit in quite well with this discussion. In core competency number four, cultivating trust and safety, there are three areas I want to predominantly focus on:

  1. How easy is it to earn trust?  
  2. How do we adapt to the style of our client?  
  3. And how do we avoid saying assigning meaning? 



Listen to/read part 2 here.


[00:01:10] Before getting into that, I want to talk about something that’s a little esoteric.


[00:01:15] How do we as coaches focus on the journey and not the destination?


[00:01:20] Because although this can relate to the entire coaching– arc of coaching, so to speak, and all of the competencies, it’s really kind of calling to me in this competency because of the discussions I’ve had in the mastermind groups and other videos I’ve actually seen on YouTube and online about this competency.



[00:01:46] Sometimes when we’re trying to rush through to help a client to achieve a goal or a perceived goal, it actually becomes more about us and a destination than what the client may really want. So checking in with the client periodically does also build that trust and help the conversation to go in the direction that the client really wants it to go in rather than where we think it might go. So we are not assigning meaning to the conversation, but we continue to check in to have the client assign meaning to everything they are discussing, as well as the conversation itself.

So let the process do the talking.

All right. So let’s jump into the section number one.

How easy is it to earn trust?

As some coaches out there say, and I totally agree, that trust is the foundation for any relationship, be it professional or personal, be coaching or non- coaching. So if we don’t have trust, we basically have nothing. I think you would agree with that. If you if we look at any aspect of our life once there is no trust, really, there is nothing.


[00:03:09] But does that trust come by default? Can it be fast or does it have to be slow? So there’s a lot of variables here. But when we’re talking about it from a cross-cultural perspective, of course, we don’t want to assign stereotypes because there are a wide variety of personalities in any culture. However, some.. some areas we can look at as far as how we gain trust in coaching.


[00:03:39] By reference. What does that mean? Another client has referred a new client to us by word of mouth. The best kind of reference us small business owners love and hope that our business actually lives on that right.


[00:03:57] So that’s actually a perfect reference point is to get that word of mouth, people talking about the good work that we do and they’re assigning that meaning to that work we’re doing and sharing that to their friends and family and with anyone that they meet who might benefit from working with us.


[00:04:19] But it also comes based on our culture.


[00:04:23] How do we how do we approach people [with] and build trust? It is culturally dependent, too. In the U.S., I think we have a phrase that we use something like “innocent until proven guilty,” which ideally we should follow that, but maybe we don’t. So a lot of cultural ideals are ideals, but in practice, they might not actually happen that way or they happen in unexpected ways. So my… the meaning I assigned to “innocent until proven guilty” is that… we will trust someone automatically by default unless and until they give us other.. another reason not to.. So because of this ideal, maybe as Americans we think we are trusting or maybe others from other cultures think we are trusting. And maybe this can be seen in certain aspects like in the U.S. and especially small towns. When people walk by each other, they actually make eye contact and smile. And in other cultures, not only could this be considered something that would put the other person on the defensive, but would feel too….too familiar, like how can you look at me like that?


[00:05:47] You’re looking at me like you really know me, like you’re really friends with me. Like you really are in intimate, intimate friend or someone who knows me really well. This was the experience I had in India when I made eye contact on the street with people in the same way that I did in the U.S. and the response was unexpected.


[00:06:11] So when I worked in India for seven years and lived there full time, it struck me as….. it took me by surprise that one of the ways that people built trust, what as an adult was that that when they wanted to do one on one coaching with me in the intake session, which all happened face to face in person at that time, they would bring a trusted person with them to the intake session and it was expected that that person would attend the intake session with them. So this trusted person could be a spouse, it could be a colleague, it could be a best friend. It could be somebody who sat in a corporate training program that I delivered. So they already knew me from that perspective. And all of this took me by surprise because these were all adults. Yes, there were occasions I did coaching with with high school students or with college students. And in that case, it’s completely…to me, it felt completely natural that a parent would be involved in that case. But for the adult scenario, what really took me by surprise and I would get so confused thinking, “OK, is it that two people want coaching or is it that they’re… initially took it like skeptical, like they don’t trust me?” But then I realized maybe that’s how it is and I should expect that to happen maybe and I should actually take it as a sign of respect that they’re bringing another person to kind of analyze me and the person who wants coaching is actually taking the advice of their trusted friend or family member in order to say, “Yes, you can trust Jennifer,” which is somewhat very strange coming from an American culture perspective, because we tend to be very individualistic and we want to we want to base all of our own decisions on ourself as an individual in the U.S. in most cases, and not from other people in our group, whether that be our family group or our friends group or our work group or our spiritual group or whatever group. I’m used to it now, and sometimes I get struck by surprise when…. when it doesn’t happen, especially in one on one intake sessions, even though now they’re all virtual. I actually take it as a sign of respect now. And I expect one on one that most of the time people will bring a trusted person with them into that one on one intake session. And I’m comfortable with it.  I understand the perspective of why it’s happening and I go with the flow. So that’s adapting to the style of the client. That’s a perfect segueway into number two.


[00:09:19] So we definitely want to learn how to adapt to the style of our client, whether that’s a cultural style, something like that. And believe me, I had no cross-cultural training on that whatsoever. I didn’t know that was part of the culture. I didn’t even know that was a culture because I never experienced that until I moved to India and lived there full time for the second time in my life. I never learned that the first time I lived in India, it may have happened. I didn’t recognize it at that point in time. So that was one way I… I personally adapted to the culture, I mean, style of the client, but also as part of the competencies. They’re talking about learning styles of the client. So here we can even broaden that to the three basic learning styles, kinesthetic, where people like to move around and actually be active in their learning; audio, where they just want to listen; or visual where they need to see. So like, this is a pretty visual medium. So nowadays that everything is happening, you know, online, since we’re working from home, some people, most people prefer to have the zoom video calls, but there are a section of coaches who really prefer just audio only even if there’s a video option available and maybe to make it easier for them, they just move over to a telephone or a mobile phone rather than a platform where you can easily turn on the video.


Our agile coaching process




[00:10:50] So how can you adapt to the learning style of your client? And this helps us to be agile. I work with agile teams. We we are pretty familiar with the concept of being agile and working through an iterative process, which means that one day, you know, one day you might sit with the client and come up with an entire arc of coaching for that particular client. But then as you actually get into session by session, it might realize that we have to go in another direction and we should be flexible to that. We should welcome that with open arms, not only for the entire arc of a coaching session or program, sorry, not for a coaching program the entire duration, but also for a coaching session every session we should be agile and adjust in an iterative way to what the client wants to learn or how the client wants to learn, what they want to learn and what they want to achieve. Easier said than done, right? But with time and practice, all things are possible.


[00:12:29] The other thing under adapting to the styles of the client is their communication style. Regardless of the language that we use, our language differs from area to area in the same country or country to country. So Spanish is different within Spain. Hindi is different within different parts of India. Malayalam in the state of Kerala or though it’s a small state. It varies from area to area.


[00:12:59] How can we adjust our language to fit our client or resonate with our client most..most appropriately? Let’s take English, especially for native speakers in Western countries. Some of us tend to think that others will understand our English immediately. Even if I’m coached by someone from the UK or Australia, I guarantee they I would not risk right off the bat to use an idiom. I would not resonate immediately with that way of using English, there would be not just an accent difference, a sound difference, there would be idioms that are different, there would be different ways of engaging, different ways of starting a conversation. So, yes, I’ve found different ways to start conversations with those I coached in India, for instance, in the U.S. When we start our conversations, we would not ask, “Have you had your lunch?” “Have you had tea?” We talk about these things when we start coaching conversations with people in India. And this is this is just trying to get to resonate with people on their level so they feel like, you know, we’re one in the same way. Yeah, I understand where you’re coming from to the best of our ability. We can’t be perfect and there’s always individual differences.


[00:14:23] Now, let’s look at the last part. Assigning individual meaning or assigning meaning. We should not assign meaning as coaches to conversations. And of course, this conversation, which is really not a conversation, but a lecture or a discussion, is really going long. But I think if you’re getting this far, you’re finding some value. And I appreciate that. Actually, before we get into the last part, I’ve decided to break up this core competency deep dive into two parts because it is quite long. So I will link up the second part to this video for your reference. Thank you so much for listening up until this point. For more information, please come to authentic journeys dot info.


[00:15:07] Thank you so much. And see you in part two of core competency number four, cultivating trust and safety.


Take a moment to listen to our insights into other ICF Core Competencies (2021):

  1. Demonstrates Ethical Practice. Definition: Understands and consistently applies coaching ethics and standards of coaching. … 
  2. Embodies a Coaching Mindset 
  3. Establishes and Maintains Agreements  
  4. Cultivates Trust and Safety (part 1) (part 2
  5. Maintains Presence 
  6. Listens Actively
  7. Evokes Awareness
  8. Facilitates Client Growth



Jennifer Kumar, author and ICF PCC credentialed coach initiated the Coach 2 Coach Mastermind through the ICF High Country Chapter in 2021. Members who join the chapter can get a great deal on attending future cohorts, or look to this page for more information. The Coach 2 Coach Mastermind deep dives into the 2021 updated ICF Core Competencies 3 through 8 through discussion, application, peer coaching and feedback. Upon completion, you will receive a certificate of 7.5 CCEUs from the International Coaching Federation (ICF). We hope you can join us.


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