Maintains Presence: ICF Core Competency 5

Posted On: March 27, 2021

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

Have you ever been in a conversation with somebody and just thought: 

“Hmm, they’re not really here, they’re not here with me right now and right here. They’re someplace else.” 


And, we decide that on a variety of different factors based on our personal and cultural context. They’re not making eye contact with me. They are making eye contact with me. Or maybe they seem like they’re a little bit distracted. They’re off in another world. They look like they’re staring into oblivion. Or that they seem like, OK, it’s too hot in here, it’s too cold in here, they’re hungry or thirsty. My avocado smoothie, yum yum. Right? 


All of these things or… and many others distract us from being present in conversations with whomever we’re talking with, regardless if it’s a professional coaching conversation or any other conversation.


I’m Jennifer Kumar from Authentic Journeys, and I want to talk about the core competency Maintains Presence in this series of core competencies to be rolled out in late 2021 by the International Coaching Federation.


Watch the video on YouTube by clicking here.

Core Competency Deep Dive: Maintains Presence

When we look at the definition here on the screen, which you’ve probably already read by now, I’m going to just say it simply. It’s just being able to pay attention to somebody. You’re really paying attention. You’re in the moment with that person. You’re not thinking about other things. You’re not doing other things. You’re not looking at other things. You’re not reading a book while talking to that person. You’re not writing stuff down unless you’re taking notes. And sometimes we do that as coaches or others.


We might take some notes, but we try to do that in such a way it’s not distracting the person we’re speaking with from understanding we’re still paying attention to them. So we need to be able to maintain that attention and that interest and also in the coaching world and maybe generally personal world, too, curiosity…. that we’re interested in the other person, that we really want to be there and speak with them and, you know, help them out with whatever they want to talk about. Of course, as we go through the core competencies and as they have been updated, the ICF does want to look at these from a cross-cultural or diverse perspective. Even some of the aspects of maintaining presence that I mentioned in the introduction could be considered culturally biased to some extent. Why? Well, making eye contact….. completely fine in the U.S., in fact, you should make eye contact, build rapport. But in some cultures, making eye contact is considered highly offensive. In fact, it could cause you to get into dangerous situations. So we really want to be aware that how we are understanding what “paying attention” means could mean different things to different people in different cultures and also different individuals in general, because we can’t say everyone from X culture prefers X, they might have a tendency toward that, but they may or may not, depending on, you know, if they’ve grown up in their home culture for their entire life, lived in different countries and adapted to other cultures, etc.


So when we look at maintaining presence, at least from the ICF perspective, obviously, to be awarded our ACC, PCC or MCC certifications, we have to follow these core competency markers. But in everyday coaching, we have to really be very flexible to that individual sitting in front of us and try to really understand where they’re coming from, from their cultural, personal and world view.


5.1 here is remains focused, observant, empathetic and responsive to the client. 

So I think I’ve already talked about that, so I’m not going to go too much deeper into that. However, I’d like to take a quote from another coach online that I’ve listened to Jedi from Coaching for Life (sorry, it is Jedi from Coaching CHANGES LIVES). I hope I got that right, he says, “Your best present to the client is your presence.” I really liked that because I think our best present to anyone we’re talking with and having a conversation with is our presence. Just being there and showing the other person in the way that they understand it, that we are there. We’re really listening to them, paying attention to them…. is the best gift that anyone can get. 


5.2 Demonstrates curiosity during the coaching process. 

So one thing I do want to kind of dive into this a little bit, because I’ve been generally doing cross-cultural coaching for the last 10 years. Of the almost thousand hours of coaching I’ve amassed in that time, plus my 3,000 plus hours of training, 95 percent of that has been done with individuals outside of my home culture, my home country. I lived in India for seven years and I continue to work with people and professionals from India even after moving back to the U.S.. So majority of the interactions I have are with people who didn’t grow up in the same culture as me, and they have a completely different cultural context. That being said, I would say it’s it’s good to be curious, but in some cases, as they say, curiosity killed the cat, right? So that phrase has a really good meaning to it because too many questions showing too much curiosity about something could make another person feel that the spotlight is on them, that they’re different for some reason, that maybe depending on how the question is either by us or interpreted by them, too many questions mean, oh, wow, they really are trying to highlight this certain thing about me just because I’m different than them or I’m from a different culture or I’m perceived a different. So we have to be careful about that. And to coin another idiom, it can be a rabbit hole to go down. So we really have to be careful about that when working across cultures. Again, we are the student of our client said by other coaches out there. So let them lead the conversation and maybe we sprinkle it in with some clarifying questions or some questions to really probe down deep, but don’t really probe down too much into similar topics over over the whole span of the coaching engagement that might also cause some challenges and difficulties as well.


So we want to ensure that how we are interacting and communicating feels like we really appreciate our client from their own diverse perspective, not some pigeon-holed perspective that we might have because they are from a different culture than us. Sometimes easier said than done. 


5.3 Manages one’s emotions to stay present with the client    

5.4 Demonstrates confidence in working with strong client emotions during the coaching process  

All right. You know, it was coming. It’s all about feelings, right? Emotions. Some people really cringe and want to move away from this topic, but we have actually earlier talked about the competency cultivates trust and safety. It’s a testament to us as coaches or helping professionals when we’ve created that environment of trust and safety to such a degree that our clients feel comfortable and open to share their emotions with us. Now to the word emotions, I want to broaden that using a bunch of different synonyms. So, of course, we can use the word emotions, but thoughts, feelings, impressions and opinions. Opinions can be very strong, right? Strong, positive opinion and strong and negative opinion. So regardless of where these emotions, thoughts, feelings, impressions or opinions fall on the continuum to the positive end or the negative end as defined by our clients, we shouldn’t identify with those. Once we identify with those and show that we identify with those with our client, it can cause them to be influenced in a way that…. it might not be a good thing. Just put it that way. We should be honored that they’re vulnerable enough to share this with us and we should not take that vulnerability for granted by overidentifying or even identifying with these emotions, thoughts, feelings, impressions and opinions. Now, when we look at this from a cross-cultural standpoint. How I interpret a certain emotion, feeling, thought, impression or opinion is completely different than someone from a different culture or it’s perceived to be completely different. Based on our worldviews, our cultural views, our family views are our regional views, our linguistic views, all of these plus many other identifiers help us to build our identity and how we perceive the world and how we actually would identify if an emotion, thought, feeling impression, or opinion is negative or positive, so to speak. So we want to be…we want to be sensitive to that.  Regardless if the person is from an identified different culture than us, even if they’re from the same exact culture than us, we shouldn’t think that they think exactly like us. We all know, even with our own within our own family, there are so many different emotions, feelings, thoughts, impressions and opinions about any given situation. And this is something we should keep in mind as we move into both 5.5 and five point six. I’m going to club them together. 


5.5 Is comfortable working in a space of not knowing.

5.6 Creates or allows for space, silence, pause or reflection.

Somehow I feel in a majority of the cases, a majority of my clients, this comes somewhat easy to me because says I know that they identify with a different culture than me and come also from a different native language than I do I tend to come in to most of the situations thinking already because of that, that I don’t know. I don’t know what they’re going to tell me. I don’t know what their situation is. How could I really possibly know when I haven’t grown up in that culture where I really don’t know what the real true norms are in that culture or expectations are in that culture? And when it comes to five point six, because of the language difference, I would say 70 to 90 percent of the individuals I work with actually speak English as a second, third, fourth or fifth language. So depending on their comfort with English and their fluency in English, many are often translating in their mind between their native language or other languages that they’re more comfortable in and English before answering in English. So that naturally was a way for me to give space to them to think and process. So in some ways, these two things came a little more naturally to me. I won’t say I’m perfect at it. I make mistakes. I know it. I know when I make a mistake. However, when we kind of remember back to the introduction I had mentioned about interruptions or multitasking, something around that. So with some of the individuals I work with based on their culture I’ve noticed that in some cases, if I’m not interrupting, they think I’m not listening. I might have talked about that in the competency video listens actively.


That is not something I would advise anyone to do when they’re submitting their coach recording to the ICF or the ACC, MCC or PCC certification, however. Don’t interrupt the the client (how to politely interrupt in American English and culture). Even if that’s your natural..natural tendency to do because of your cultural conditioning, it won’t be accepted in an ICF recording. So just keep that in mind. So I hope you have gathered some really interesting insights about this core competency “Maintains Presence” from cross-cultural perspective as well in this video.


Again, I’m Jennifer Kumar from Authentic Journeys. I can work with you on mentor coaching. I can also work with you if you’re a second, third, fourth or fifth English language speaker attending a coaching program and you want to be able to process all of your learnings in English and become more comfortable, confident and fluent in English in a coaching environment, I’m here to help. 

Do get in touch with me: 

  1. Email address: Jennifer at Authentic Journeys dot Info
  2. U.S. phone number. I am in Salt Lake City, Utah. +1 385 218 0947 
  3. I have a WhatsApp number, so this is only for WhatsApp and it’s an Indian number +91 95 393 47529


I’m looking forward to being in touch. Thanks so much for listening and being present…maintaining your presence during this video is a long one. See you soon. Bye.


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


  1. Demonstrates Ethical Practice 
  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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