LaTonya Wilkins

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People, Culture, and Team Coach | Culture, Inclusion & Belonging Change Agent | Keynote Speaker 

I am Co-Founder of SaaS Company Zebrain, Sweden’s first platform for netcoaching – a digital platform realizing human potential and democratizing mental strength. We are now launching the coaching of the future by offering “Subscription to potential” to the many.

Previous to Zebrain, I am also founder of SaaS Company Hubbster Group, specialized in digital methods, tools and experts for activating strategies, plans and cultures – bottom up. With the insight that co-worker motivation is poorly incorporated in strategic alignment, I wanted to create change. The result was a scalable, digital method that uniquely motivates co-workers to use the strategy, hence making coworker driven change concrete and possible.

Prior to the above, I have over 20 years of experience as an entrepreneur, motivation nerd, advisor and business-driven change maker.

Specialities: Change management, Motivation, Activation, Continuous Improvement, Corporate Culture, Co-worker Commitment, Organizational effectiveness, Corporate Branding & Communications.

Coaching Below the Surface: How to Build Real (and Psychologically) Safe Relationships with People Who Are Different from You


Do you find yourself coaching people who are different from you? Perhaps they are of different ages, races, gender, or sexual orientation. As coaches, we pride ourselves on asking questions and listening, so being different shouldn’t matter, right? Well, not exactly. We are still human. This interactive session will focus on the human side of coaching. You will specifically learn how our implicit bias and blindspots may interfere with us, building the most trustful coaching relationships possible with clients different from us.

In addition to what was mentioned above, participants will learn:

  • Why coaching people different from ourselves is a vital skill.
  • A history of diversity, equity, and inclusion approaches and why these approaches have failed in organizations.
  • Common missteps that humans take when interacting with people different from ourselves and how to recognize and avoid these missteps.


My Grandma inspired me

  • Building relationships with people different from you has been something I’m accustomed to doing. 
  • I’ve always been inspired by others in my family.

Why is “Coaching Below the Surface” an important skill?

  • The workplace is getting more diverse, and it may not be inclusive. 
  • We’re becoming aware, yet the long-term inclusion is still not occurring. 
  • For instance, the mental health issue in the workplace is mostly happening for women, especially during COVID-19.
  • Growth and challenge opportunities are still a challenge for everyone, especially for LGBTQ+ employees.
  • Parents are taking the brunt of childcare/family care, making it harder to balance the childcare.

Coaching Below the Surface – A Critical Skill for the Future of Work

  • As coaches, we can have a powerful impact on the future. 
  • If you’re coaching people who are different from you effectively, many of these skills can be overcome.
  • If you’re leading below the surface, you’re building relationships with people who are different from you. 
  • Many of the problems we have are because we don’t do this well. We’re not getting the right people at the table.
  • We if we create a sense of belonging around the world for people who are different from us.
  • We are making sure to build relationships with people different from us and bringing new things to the table.

Why Important: Misconceptions Running Wild

  • I’m a coach. Asking powerful questions protects me from bias. 
  • I only coach, so this isn’t that important to me.
  • A client is a client. I see everyone the same.
  • Coaches go through extensive training on how to coach people and listen. The biggest pushback coaches have is creating a sense of belonging.
  • If we want to work together globally to solve the biggest problems of the future, we have to coach people different from us. It’s going to be the default. The world is diverse. 
  • This is a diverse world, and we have to coach people different from ourselves.

We often overestimate how inclusive we are

  • Sticking neck out to create equity in the workplace.
  • A lot of people are more friends and supporters. They might listen to you and let you vent, but they’re not really sticking their neck out.
  • The issue here is that we think we’re sticking our neck out.
  • How many clients have you coached of a different race, gender, or sexual orientation in the last year? Or any identity that may be different from you.
  • What is the implication of coaching clients different from you? 
  • For instance, if you’re coaching only 20% of people different from you, what does that mean for your practice? What kind of personal development do you want to participate in?
  • As business coaches, our clients often pick us, and the selection process can be filled with bias and questioning on both sides.
  • When people go through organizational diversity changes training, they experience overconfidence.

This is what really happens when you have a bad experience

When clients pick a coach:

  1. Will this person understand me?
  2. Is this the right coach? Will the coach have empathy for me?
  3. Has this person coached someone like me before?
  4. Can I trust this person?

When you have a new prospective client different from you, what is your initial reaction?

  • What does the person want to be called?
  • What are their fears with having me as the coach?

Common Mishaps

  • Overcompensation: Trying too hard to make the person feel comfortable.
  • Not allowing people to bring their entire self to the relationship: Only focusing on things you have in common.
  • Avoidance: Avoiding or glossing over uncomfortable topics.

You may even reach unconsciously

  • A bat and ball cost $1.10. The bat costs one dollar more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?

Implicit Bias

  • Attitudes and stereotypes affecting understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner.
  • Favorable and unfavorable assessments.
  • Involuntary, no awareness or control.
  • Dozens, though heavy usage in diversity training.

Current Research

  • Implicit bias can be changed on a limited basis.
  • Exposure reduces our biases, not training.

How do we coach below the surface?

  • There are three different prongs of leadership to lead and coach people who are different from us.
  1. REAL Leadership
  2. Empathy
  3. Psychological Safety

REAL Leadership

  • R – Relatable: Sitting on the same stoop as your client. You want your experiences to be relatable to your clients.
  • E – Equitable: Have eyes for structures and systems that may be marginalizing certain groups. Does your client have equity in the organization? How can you create that equity?
  • A – Aware: Aware of what your strengths and shortcomings are. Finding ways to improve that awareness.
  • L – Loyal: Most important for psychological safety.


  • P2P Listening: Person to Person Listening
  • You’re focused on the person. 
  • Active listening without any distraction.
  • P2B Listening: Person to Belonging Listening

Sometimes, we dive into the deep end too quickly.

  • Sometimes we dive straight into a psychologically safe relationship. That’s not the right way. 
  • First, we have to look deeper. Then become REAL leaders, build and practice empathy with people different from us. Then we achieve that psychological safety.


  • Connecting with people who are different from us is the #1 skill coaches need to prepare for the future.
  • The more you go deeper with your clients, the more psychologically safe someone feels.
  • Be in your client’s shoes as much as possible.
  • Empathize with others.

📣 A big shoutout to LaTonya Wilkins for sharing and discussing coaching below the surface! ❤️ Watch the entire video here to catch up with LaTonya on her research, book, and an interesting Q&A round! 

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