I hope you are keeping well and that business is booming.
Judgement is an insidious issue which is often overlooked when discussing the question of coaching and of building trust. In fact, we tend to forget the impact that judgement has had over time in limiting our own learning, and therefore everyone else’s. In many of our work environments, and beyond, judgement is present in heaps. In fact, aren’t we all guilty of being judgemental much of the time, even if we don’t always express it? It is as if everyone needs to make judgemental comments about everything, most of them perhaps derogatory or cynical rather than complimentary. It’s as if we get a lot of our “jollies”, and perhaps (we believe) even our personal power, out of being critical of other people.
The first point to make is that our teams should preferably be a place of learning, because, unless learning takes place in them, by definition we cannot improve our performance – at best, at some early point performance will become stagnant. We might throw more resources at the problem, but the team and team members will not perform better.
But, what is our experience of learning? Most of us have always learnt from someone (or from people) who was at least seen to be superior in terms of knowledge, experience and, often, status. At school, we were supposed to learn from our teachers. On the sports field, we learnt from coaches. And, in the workplace, we learnt from our supervisors or managers. In fact, even in informal and social environments we all tend to spend considerable time giving our views about things, often in an evaluative or judgemental manner.
In the workplace, we might have approached our managers with a problem and the managers took what they were seeing or hearing and compared this with the model answer they had in their heads. This model was based on what they had been taught as being the “right way”. Looking through the lens of this model, the managers saw all the differences between “what is” and “what should be”.
To provide the solution, the managers then gave a variety of instructions, but there was a single, common context, which was: “I will tell you what you should and shouldn’t do.”
Faced with this series of “should” and “shouldn’t” instructions, our pattern of behaviour becomes quite predictable. We place the utmost trust in the judgemental feedback of our managers and see our responsibility as merely doing as we are told. We then try hard not to do what we shouldn’t do and to ensure that we do what we should. The managers see our response to their commands and say “good”. As well-intentioned as our managers might be, what they are really saying is, “Good, you are obeying me.” The managers provide the “shoulds” and the “shouldn’ts” and we supply the “trying hard”, which is followed by another “good” or “bad” judgement by the managers. This process has been repeated in our lives over and over. Everything is done in a judgemental context. (Gallwey 2000: 4-5)
This approach by superiors, whether intentional or not, is effectively a method of control and, sooner or later, will be seen as such by their team members. And, of course, the same applies to us as manager coaches – sooner or later, this approach will appear to our team members as controlling and disempowering. Being judgemental, therefore, can constitute a huge withdrawal and can affect rapport and trust levels detrimentally. In addition, it gets in the way of true learning.
If we can encourage non-judgemental awareness among our team members, there is no doubt that their learning experiences will be amazingly affected (Gallwey 2000:10). For example, in our chapter on structures and models, we referred to self-observation exercises. If we enable our team members to merely observe what is happening, without judging what is happening in any way, this raises their awareness and is often curative on its own.
As manager coaches, then, our primary responsibility should be to maintain a non-judgemental focus, to provide appropriate opportunities for natural learning and to stay out of the way. Our second responsibility is to help our team members to maintain focus while trusting themselves to learn directly from experience. As soon as either the manager coach or team member becomes judgemental by making negative or positive evaluations, the perception of threat will usually return and trigger the cycle of interference. Our focus, therefore, should be on non-judgemental acknowledgement of things as they are.
Try applying this just for the next week and let me know what you notice!
And please don’t hesitate to reach out to me if you believe I can help you move from good to great? Here’s a link to my diary – let’s explore this over a virtual coffee chat – (Michele – our wifi is down – please put the link in. Thks)
Until next month
PS Whilst we are all prone to judging, remember, judgement says nothing about the judged; it says everything about the judge!