Friday 16 October 2015

Non-Judgemental Coaching

I have been reflecting on Non-Judgemental Coaching, and this post is really my thinking aloud on the topic.

On the face of it, being non-judgemental seems a good stance for a coach to take, and it is often taken as a given for good coaching practice. See here, and here for a couple of fairly typical examples. 

But the more I think of this, the less that simple stance makes sense.

On the one hand, of course nobody wants to be judged, and further, as a coach, one tries to work with the client's material, including his or her judgement.

However, even in the first article cited above, the author writes:   It is, however, a truism that it is necessary and useful to challenge universal truths the Client holds if these are limiting or otherwise damaging to the process of self-change and realisation. Building the coaching relationship is a dynamic process which nurtures honesty, trust, reliability and curiosity.

Clearly, such challenges are based on a judgement, made by the coach, that 'these are limiting or otherwise damaging to the process of self-change and realisation.' So how can one call such an approach non-judgemental?

Likewise, to say that 'Building the coaching relationship is a dynamic process which nurtures honesty, trust, reliability and curiosity,' is to bring a lot of judgements to bear: not least, judgements about the desirability of 'honesty, trust, reliability and curiosity.'

Moreover, one of the things a coach may decide is important is to offer support to a client who is making a difficult decision, which others are deriding. It may well be the client's own decision; and indeed that may well be why, as a coach, one would want to support it, to help develop the client to develop his or her autonomy. But such support is in itself a judgement - approving the client's courage in making a difficult autonomous decision is judgemental.

Sometimes when I go down this track with people, they retreat into saying that being judgemental is making negative judgements, not positive ones. But even that won't do. If I approve some decisions, then the client knows that I am making a judgement. If I am then silent about other decisions, the client will understand that I am withholding approval - which is also a judgement.

Moreover, posing as non-judgemental, if that is not what we are actually thinking or feeling, is inauthentic; and therefore likely to be counter-productive in terms of the coaching relationship.

So I think that we need to be much more nuanced than this, and my current working theory is this:

1 I do not judge my clients, as people;
2 I am likely to reach judgements about their decisions, or actions; it may or may not be helpful to let them know these;
3 The client's own judgements about their decisions or actions are more important to elicit and to work with;
4 The client's judgements are not infallible;
5 It is part of my professional responsibility to make many other judgements: about the way in which we are working together; about what interventions might be appropriate; about ethical considerations; and more besides. 

But as I say, this is thinking aloud, so I am interested in others' views on this - and will doubtless develop, and possibly change, mine.


PS  (2021) I wrote this some 6 years ago now, and of all my blog posts, it is the one that is most visited on a regular basis - it now has nearly double the number of hits compared to any other post. I am curious about this: if you read this, and feel so inclined, could you add a comment to let me know what or who directed you here. Has someone somewhere put it on a reading list - and if so, as an example of wisdom, idiocy, or something in-between?...  Thanks  AS

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