Business

Is Non-Judgemental Possible

By: • 1 month ago •

Is it humanly possible to be truly non-judgemental?

By Jane Porter

Many coaches happily claim to be entirely ‘non-judgmental’. I’m happy to admit I’ve made the same claim on numerous occasions. However, the more I learn about coaching (and myself), the more I’m led to question this claim, including my own version of it. So, let’s explore the question, is it humanly possible to be truly non-judgmental?

Fresh from a recent break, I find myself smiling wryly at this concept of ‘coaches being non-judgmental’. I spent a lot of time with family over this period, which I’m fortunate to say was largely a positive experience, but was I ever truly non-judgmental during this time? Not a chance! Whilst I was not in the role of ‘coach’, as a way of dealing with the family mayhem I would find quiet moments by becoming present with myself and observing myself in the dynamic. My challenge to myself during these moments was ‘ok let’s just see how non-judgmental you really are’. You can probably predict the result of my experiment.

Picture the scene…a large family gathering, relations of all ages from zero to 80 something, it’s hot, it’s noisy, kids, food and dogs everywhere, and my brain was busying itself with all sorts of interesting thoughts… ‘What is C wearing? B is quiet today. F can’t keep those kids under control. K looks well… I could go on… and on…and on. Earlier in the piece I did say that it was largely a positive experience, so what was it that was causing my brain to engage in judgement with almost every thought? The in-depth answer to that question is well beyond the scope of these few lines, but let’s have a look at what’s happening through an explicit and implicit lens. On an explicit level I’ll happily tell you I’m non-judgmental and I had a great

As a professional coach I have a choice, I can claim I am non-judgmental, say that I don’t take judgement into sessions with me, and claim I am something akin to superhuman, or I can embrace my well-practiced judging capability, and see it as an asset to my role as coach.

time with my family during this time. Not dissimilar to the coach who claims to be ‘non-judgmental’. On an implicit level, a whole bunch of other stuff was happening. Siri Carpenter deals with this topic in an article in Scientific American (2008) entitled Buried Prejudice. Carpenter explains that, “… implicit biases grow out of normal and necessary features of human cognition, such as our tendency to categorise, to form cliques and to absorb social messages and cues…” He also states that often such associations exist outside conscious understanding, hence the term unconscious bias. The good news, it’s quite normal, the bad news is we are doing it ALL the time. If you don’t buy into this idea, have a go at Harvard Education’s Implicit Bias Testing. It’s humbling. So, there it is; we are judging all the time. In fact, we can’t switch it off. So,what does this mean for coaching?

As a professional coach I have a choice, I can claim I am non-judgmental, say that I don’t take judgement into sessions with me, and claim I am something akin to superhuman, or I can embrace my well-practiced judging capability, and see it as an asset to my role as coach.

So, let’s flip the statement. What would it be like for we coaches were to

claim our discerning inner judges and name this as a coaching strength?

• Coaches would then be making effective judgement about which coaching approaches they bring to each session to best serve their counterpart.

• When ethical dilemmas present in coaching discerning judgement would be used to decide whether and how the coaching will continue.

• Coaches would judge what they think they heard and then make decisions on how this might be used to craft the next powerful question.

• Coaches would judge what to share of what they notice about a counterpart.

• Coaches would effectively judge how to manage the time in a session to ensure effective action and outcomes within the time available.

• Coaches would have heightened awareness of their own biases and how they are showing up in the coaching session and relationship.

There is the point to be made here. All judgments are not made equal, depending on who and what the judgement is in service of.

• Coaches would make judgement calls on whether what they were experiencing would be useful for the counterpart to hear. Given that this cursory list is only a few of many ideas, would it then be true to say that if a coach stops judging they will more than likely lose impact?

There is the point to be made here that all judgments are not made equal, depending on who and what the judgement is in service of. For example, if I am judging the coaching action that you just committed to as ‘useless’ it’s simply my opinion and is self-serving. If I judge that the action you just set yourself doesn’t seem to align with what you said you wanted, I can use this information to ask a question such as, ‘As you imagine yourself taking that action, how do you see this moving you towards your stated coaching objective?’

So where do you stand on this? Should coaches strive for total non-judgement

and wear this as a badge of honour? Or is there something here that we need to claim and integrate into our practice?

For over 20 years IECL by GrowthOps has been coaching leaders and has been a centre for excellence in coaching, coach training and leadership development in Australia and the Asia-Pacific region. Our mission is to improve the performance of individuals, teams and organisations. Our ICF accredited programs are the region’s most highly respected organisational coaching qualification, conforming to the rigorous standards set by ICF and teaching the ICF core competencies to ensure we turn out great coaches, who get strong results.

BY JANE PORTER

Master Certified Coach (MCC with ICF) and Head of Education, working across APAC both in person and virtually.

Her focus is on increasing the ability of Executives and Internal Corporate Coaches to deal with the complexity.

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