Yes, it is possible to practice being non-judgmental AND exercise critical thinking.
Coming from a non-judgmental point of view is essential for any coaching interaction. And yet, how can that affect and challenge your own personal value system?
Recently, a graduate of iPEC shared that one of their biggest reservations going into coach training was around the idea of non-judgment and the fear that, “these people were going to try and get me to lean all the way into non-judgment, which would require me to give up something I’ve always prided myself on: my critical thinking skills.”
Turns out, we don’t have to turn our back on our values in order to practice non-judgment!
“All I know is that my life is better when I assume that people are doing their best. It keeps me out of judgment and lets me focus on what is, and not what should or could be.” —Brené Brown, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead
When we can assume people are doing the best they can, with the tools they have, it opens us up to not assume responsibility for judging their actions.
Brown continues around this idea of assuming people are doing the best they can, but sometimes their best is dangerous, or not acceptable within society standards.
So, if being non-judgmental is the goal, where does critical thinking fit in? Is it possible for the two to coexist?
We decided to put this question to two of our fellow iPEC graduates, Alexis Orlacchio, CPC, ELI-MP, and Michelle Anthony LaCroix, ELI-MP, and start a dialogue around how we as coaches can coach the energy and the person, and not their specific situation.
How can you practice noticing judgment, and how it shows up for you?
In terms of noticing judgment: one of the biggest giveaways for me personally that I’ve fallen into judgment mode is when I feel myself using binary language, or thinking in terms of good vs. bad, right vs. wrong, etc. We’re all guilty of it at times! And for many of us, it looks like jumping to quick conclusions. Things like:
I can’t believe so-and-so did/believes/said that.
I could (or would) never ___.
They’re thinking about this all wrong…
And when that happens, especially as a coach, it means I’ve shut a door. It means my mind is already made up, and as a result, my thinking has become rigid and narrow.
As a coach, this can mean I miss an opportunity to be fully present with a client and uncover new possibilities that would never have even occurred to me! But as a human, it can also mean I miss an opportunity to acknowledge another person’s humanity, build new bridges of understanding, and expand my own consciousness.
Absolutely. So then as a coach, how do you resist the temptation to judge someone else’s choices or actions, even when you initially have strong opinions about them?
When it comes to judgment, something that I always love to lean on goes back to the iPEC training. I remind myself that everyone is operating in the world based on their unique perception of it, and that perception is formed based on their life experiences, environments, peers, community, etc.
Dropping your judgment does not mean that critical thinking goes out the window. Yes, as a coach, your job is to listen, to acknowledge, to validate, to reflect, but it is also to create awareness and to challenge. How can we partner together to reveal the client’s unique and special gifts, hone in on their values and strengths, and keep them accountable?
What a great reframe about creating awareness. It’s also interesting that you mention values. How do you commit to non-judgment as a coach, when you notice your personal values being challenged?
This is something I really grappled with at first. Before going through coach training and gaining a deeper understanding of what non-judgment can really look like, leaning hard into judgment felt like a way to double down on my values. It almost felt noble! Like, “if I’m not willing to judge certain things as ‘wrong’ or ‘bad’, how can I take a stand for the things that matter to me, or affect change?”
My fear about non-judgment was that it meant being wishy-washy, or morally ambiguous. But in reality, I learned that curiosity and non-judgment aren’t substitutes for conviction; they’re tools for deeper exploration and understanding.
Through coach training and with practice, I’ve learned that embracing non-judgment and curiosity doesn’t mean I have to give up on critical thinking or abandon my moral compass. Instead, I’ve found that they’re what help me go deeper. When we’re curious, we leave room for things like nuance, evolution, and humanity to add richness and depth to the conversation.
Yes, love that you’re bringing the power of curiosity into the conversation. Tell me more about that.
I love the idea of replacing judgment with curiosity. Because when judgment is in the driver’s seat, it wants to be right. But when curiosity is leading the way, it wants to explore. And what’s great about exploration is that it takes the pressure off of getting to the “right” destination, or getting there the “right” way. Instead, it becomes about the journey, taking in the view along the way, and seeing where it leads.
As a coach, it’s this kind of openness and trust that helps me stay fully present and trust that we’ll end up where we need to be, without trying to force a particular plan or outcome.
But it also helps me know myself better. By staying curious (without judgment!) about how I feel and what comes up for me during challenging conversations, I glean valuable information about my own values, boundaries, and convictions—even as those things shift and change.
Absolutely! So, in practical terms, how can we practice bringing this type of curiosity and non-judgment into our coach-client relationships?
Throughout the coaching relationship, the client gets to choose what serves them best. Being a great coach doesn’t mean that I will use my own personal values system to guide a client into thinking like me. My job as a coach is to go past the surface level of the topics they choose to speak about and ensure that they’ve thought about these topics holographically, using multiple perspectives. So really, clients can actually enhance their critical thinking skills through effective coaching.
Non-attachment is a great skill to utilize that I believe goes hand-in-hand with non-judgment. A great litmus test I like to use to check how well I am practicing non-judgment is to see if I feel at peace or if I am experiencing strong emotions after an interaction. Creating awareness is always key.
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