Non-Directive and Non-Judgemental Coaching – with ease

I have been asked recently ‘How do you develop a coaching style that is non-directive and non-judgmental?’ I think this is a really interesting question firstly, because as a coach I will often choose to be quite directive in my coaching.

So first of all I will clarify what I mean by directive. When I say that I am directive in my coaching I am talking about times that I steer the process, or encourage my client to consider some aspect that they are avoiding or not seeing, or I’m challenging their thinking. I class this as directive and a necessary part of my coaching. So when I talk about being non directive I am referring to the fact that I do not want to tell my clients what to do or point them towards particular solutions. The problem is that I have often been in similar situations to my clients so solutions can regularly pop into my head.

Secondly I can also be judgemental about all sorts of things; the client, what they say about other people, what I think about their solutions, behaviour or their thinking. When brainstorming ideas I might think ‘oh no I wouldn’t do that’ or ‘oh yes – fantastic idea’ – very clear judgements taking place. Some are obvious but often judgements are unconscious. In a supervision session I realised that I had judged a client and this had influenced my coaching, with no awareness in the moment of it happening.

Both scenarios still happen despite years of development, but they happen less often than they once did. So I suggest that first of all accept that directive and judgemental thinking will happen. The aim is to build your awareness of it happening and then to reduce the negative influence on your coaching and to use the awareness positively, consciously and deliberately.

Whilst there is more I could suggest I am going to focus briefly on just two aspects. Presence and Reflective practice.


Prepare yourself for a coaching session by moving into a calm, quiet and reflective state. This helps to settle your mind. Your presence is also affected by what you believe about your client and your role in the relationship.A key belief that helps me, is that every person has their own inner wisdom (that I call an Invisible Coach) and that this wisdom provides all the answers they will ever need. When coaching I trust that their inner wisdom will surface if between us we can create the right environment. I let go of the responsibility for coming up with solutions, this is the client’s responsibility. My role is to help the client to access their Invisible Coach so that they can find their own solutions.I also have love for the person. For some, love might be too strong a word so I would also describe it as having an open heart towards the person. I try to see the person behind any behaviour or thinking that I may not agree with, and this acts to take the sting out of any judgement I might make.

Reflective Practice

I strongly advocate reflection both during and after coaching sessions. Reflection helps us to notice our directive or judgemental thinking and gives us the chance to offer something different to theclient. It takes time and practice to reflect whilst coaching, however a first step towards being able to do so is to reflect after the session either on your own or with a coaching supervisor. Reflection after the fact will help you to identify what happened and highlight what to look out for in future sessions. Eventually you can access your own ‘Invisible Coach’ while coaching, giving the opportunity to offer alternative interventions in the moment.Here are some questions that you could use, either during (not all at the same time!) or after coaching sessions:

  • Am I looking for a particular answer to this question?
  • Am I steering the process or towards a particular solution?
  • If I offer this intervention who, or what purpose is it serving?
  • What am I assuming in this intervention?

Once you have identified solutions and judgements in hindsight through reflective practice, you should start noticing similar thoughts as they arise. It’s not about stopping the thoughts arising. That is almost impossible. It’s easier to notice the thoughts and then take time to choose which to use and which to let go of in the moment.Article first published by the International Coaching Federation in May 2014

This entry was posted on March 18, 2016

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