Do Coaches Judge?

Have you ever wondered whether coaches judge their clients? After all, doesn’t the coach hold all the power in the relationship, while the client is vulnerable due to their need for help?

In order for one person to judge another, they need to have power over the other, however small that power differential may be. It may seem similar to therapy; but it isn’t really the case. A therapist sitting at the far corner of the room, jotting down notes you cannot see; this seems like a situation predisposed towards judgement, but it is instead designed to create clinical separation. This separation does not really exist in coaching, because while coaching is still professional, it is far less clinical in approach. In both cases, though, judgement is unhelpful and harmful to both the client and the professional. No coach wants judgement to be part of their brand.

Coaches don’t judge because:

  1. They are often aligned with an organisation or association with a code of ethics:
    Central to the code of ethics is the idea that the client is the expert on their own life, not the coach. The coach’s job is to ask questions about the client’s challenge in order to help themselves and the client come to more clarity on what works and what does not. The intent is to open the client to different perspectives, and to help them consider potential changes or solutions to any challenges the client is facing in that moment.
  2. They don’t always have all the answers:
    Everyone has their own perspective, values and cultural background, this is especially prevalent here in South Africa, given our diversity. Two people can come to different conclusions on the same thing and both of them can be right, no one is more or less ‘right’ simply by virtue of their background.
    To give advice from a position of judgement is to force your views onto someone, something which may not work for them. People have to decide for themselves what will and won’t work in their reality and what they are prepared to commit to.
  3. Judging is the exact opposite of what they are supposed to be doing.
    A coach’s job is to be a mirror for their client. To mirror someone else is to provide room for reflection, showing them their thinking and helping in achieving clarity through introspection. As the quote by E.M. Foster says “How do I know what I think until I see what I say?”. Judgement requires thinking of things that are ‘outside’ the conversation with the client, this stands in direct contrast to the coaching process – which is based in being present, listening to the client, understanding their situation, and asking relevant questions.
  4. Coaches believe in the potential of people.
    Coaching is less about the things that have already happened, and more about growing, learning, and moving forward. It is specifically about helping others tap into their potential, while judging is about actively denying that potential exists in the first place, and that there is only one right answer.
  5. People spend enough time judging themselves.
    Judgement tends to take up a lot of space, denying learning and growth at every opportunity, and people judge themselves so much that more judgement would be disastrous, ruining any possibility for growth. Part of the coach’s work is to create space for their client to explore their potential, show them where their abilities really lie and to help them reach it.

Given what looks like an uneven power dynamic, it may feel natural to assume that your coach might be judging you – but know that good coaches know that judgement is counterproductive to their work. They aren’t judging you, because they are on your side and they want nothing more than to help.