When we withhold judgement in a coaching conversation, we can serve our clients more fruitfully. Badri Bajaj explains how


In a recent coaching conversation with Aman (name changed), I asked him to share what was stopping him from taking the desired actions to achieve his goal.

He gave me seven reasons which were holding him back:

  • It’s very hard to be consistent
  • I have to repeat it every day
  • It’s very hard for me
  • I’m not able to even start it
  • Someday I will not do it and then will stop doing it
  • I have deadlines for other tasks
  • Sometimes I don’t feel like doing it


After listening to these reasons, I noticed that he’d mentioned words such as “very hard to be consistent”, “very hard for me” twice. This led to a judgement in my mind that he seemed to have developed a belief that it was very hard for him, and this belief was stopping him from taking action and moving forward.

Nevertheless, as per coaching principles, instead of going with my judgement I asked a question around the ranking of these seven reasons. While answering my question, Aman pinpointed “deadlines for other tasks” as the most prominent reason out of these seven reasons. I asked him to elaborate on his answer. He shared that he tries to grab all opportunities that come his way.

He realised that he needs to have less on his plate and that he needs to focus on just a few things in order to become a specialist. If he was unable to drop anything from his plate, then he needed to prioritise those things.

The narrative shared by Aman shattered my judgement that he’d developed a belief around it being very hard for him to be consistent – or just hard for him. I actually felt happy that I could park my judgement and try to be curious, asking a question around the ranking of the reasons shared by him. I was excited to see Aman moving forward towards the goal of the coaching session.

A question coming from my initial judgement might have taken the entire conversation in a different direction. If this had happened, I couldn’t have served the client in the best way possible.

This interchange prompted me to explore further the science behind holding judgement and also the ways which might help myself and other coaches to become effective in holding judgements in a coaching conversation.


The science

A judgement may be a form of perception of the coach about the client’s context, thinking and behaviour. According to cognitive psychology, perception refers to an interpretation of the stimuli we sense. Sensory events are processed within the context of our knowledge of the world, on culture, expectations and the situation we’re in, and who we’re with at the time. Therefore,the perception could be a subjective outcome.

Perception also depends on how much attention we’re paying in a conversation and whether we’re fully present or not. Perception is a very fast process and unconscious perceptual processing actively constructs conscious mental representations of what we’re sensing. Our senses pick up very specific information and after interpreting the information, it becomes commonly abstract.

Our perception is determined by the integration of what we know (in an abstract sense) with what we sense (in a specific sense). Therefore whatever perception we build about a person, event or context, we might not be 100% correct in it.

So a belief that my judgment is correct, and then moving forward in a conversation based on that belief might not lead the conversation in the right direction. And that might not move the client forward towards the achievement of their desired coaching session outcome.

Holding our judgement and asking a question out of curiosity may help the client move forward in the right direction towards the achievement of the session goals. The idea of holding judgement is applicable even when the coach shares observations, feelings and so on, with the client.


How to hold judgements

As coaches, we might draw on the following ways to become more effective in holding judgements in a coaching conversation:

  • Reminding ourselves about the core coaching principles, process and role of a coach before each coaching session, which include remaining curious and non-judgemental.
  • Being really intentional about operating from a highly curious mindset to keep guiding us at a subconscious level to ask questions to understand more and more about the client’s context.
  • Preparing for the session by getting grounded using centring techniques to make it more likely for us to be able to maintain this openness and curiosity.
  • Working on developing an understanding that our judgements are based partly on our own experiences, expectation and context, so may not be relevant to the client.
  • Becoming aware of our own beliefs about human behaviour and motivation so we appreciate that judgments are made unconsciously by the mind.
  • Becoming aware of confirmation bias so that the coach is not interpreting some data in the coaching conversation to confirm pre-existing beliefs or hypotheses.
  • Paying undivided attention to the client’s words, body language, breathing and other non-verbal data points will make us (and the client) more fully present and curious. Here, undivided attention will mean not being tempted to do things while having a coaching conversation, such as telling someone else on WhatsApp or via email that you are in a coaching session.
  • Our values, beliefs and habits are stored in our long-term memory. Try putting in place ongoing reflective practice to help change those beliefs and habits around being judgemental and not curious enough. How can we be more curious? By putting some objects in our line of vision as reminders in the visual space. This will help strengthen a change in habits.


  • Badri Bajaj is a faculty member with Jaypee Institute of Information Technology Noida, India, and is president of the International Coaching Federation Delhi NCR Charter Chapter.
  • Lindsay Wittenberg is away