Barefoot Coaching hold a regular A-Z of coaching on twitter and the most recent topic was Unconditional Positive Regard.
Popularised by Carl Rogers, Unconditional Positive Regard is accepting and supporting the person for who they are without evaluating or judging them. It is one of the three core conditions to a transformational coaching relationship.
I have learnt that Unconditional Positive Regard is conditional.
It is conditional on the coaches awareness of cognitive biases that show up in the coaching relationship.
There are 5 biases I have found that influence my ability to demonstrate Unconditional Positive Regard:
1. Unconscious Bias
We all make unconscious judgements of individuals based upon our past experiences and beliefs. This can often create a barrier in our ability to demonstrate Unconditional Positive Regard. The risk for a coach is if our judgments remain unconscious they could influence our ability to help create a transformational relationship.
2. Negativity Bias
As humans we tend to focus more on negative events. Coaches need to be aware that we will naturally be drawn to the negative experiences of the client, especially as the client themselves will also be susceptible to this bias. All clients have many positive and wonderful experiences that can be used to shift perspectives. It is often this shifting from a negative position to another that can lead to the client seeing their situation differently.
3. Confirmation Bias
As an internal coach, I often hear a back story about clients before taking a coaching engagement. For example, I will often be approached by a manager explaining why one of their team might need coaching. It is important to be aware that if we begin a coaching relationship with preconceptions we may seek to confirm these beliefs. Suspending our own beliefs and judgements is fundamental to showing positive regard unconditionally.
Humans have a tendency to rely on one piece of information too heavily. This is called anchoring. If for example, a client shares a disturbing situation, we may anchor on this information and give it too much focus. Helping the client explore other information helps them build a richer and deeper awareness of their situation. Trying not to anchor on negative experiences is a practical example of Unconditional Positive Regard.
5. Optimism Bias
In some ways you could view Unconditional Positive Regard as the optimism that all humans are capable of great things regards of their background or current situation. Seeing the world as glass half full can be a great way to see the possibilities around us. However, over optimism can bring downsides too. Not letting optimism take over within the coaching relationship is important. I have found this particularly to be the case discussing actions. The client may be over optimistic about the actions they will take. Using a technique such as If/Then planning can help the client see their actions from different perspectives helping them achieve sustainable change.
Due to these cognitive biases, often Unconditional Positive Regard is conditional.
It is conditional based upon the coaches level of awareness of their cognitive biases.
How can you build a better awareness of your biases?
There are 3 activities I have used to build personal awareness:
Supervision – Coaches need to be coached. Building awareness of your cognitive biases and how they show up can be a great topic for supervision.
Journaling – Keeping a daily journal of your coaching enables you to reflect on how you showed up in recent coaching sessions.
Learn what biases exist – Below is a great visual summary of the different cognitive biases. Eye opening!