You might know that I’m an author, trainer, coach, speaker and facilitator. I’m also a runner, a creative and a very bad dancer.

What you might not know is that I’m also a trained counsellor.

I don’t practice or work as a counsellor because I’ve learned that I prefer the role of coach. Although many of the skills and concepts I learned in counselling have been invaluable in what I do now.

One of those concepts is ‘unconditional positive regard‘. I learned about it studying Carl Rogers and a Client Centred (or human centred) approach to therapy. This concept has not only been foundational in creating a safe therapeutic relationship, but also in responding more empathetically to those I coach or lead.

Unconditional positive regard is full acceptance of the person outside of their beliefs or behaviours. Don’t mistake it for unconditional love. We don’t need to love (or even like) the person to see them as a fellow human being.

It does not mean that you accept each and every action taken by the person, but that you accept who they are at a level much deeper than surface behaviour” (Rogers, 1951).

In his book ‘A Way of Being’ he frames it as:

To be with another in this [empathic] way means that for the time being, you lay aside your own views and values in order to enter another’s world without prejudice. In some sense it means that you lay aside your self; this can only be done by persons who are secure enough in themselves that they know they will not get lost in what may turn out to be the strange or bizarre world of the other, and that they can comfortably return to their own world when they wish. Perhaps this description makes clear that being empathic is a complex, demanding, and strong—yet subtle and gentle—way of being.

Like I said at the beginning of this series, empathy is a soft skill but it’s not fluffy. It’s complex, demanding and strong.

Here’s a few ways you can incorporate ‘unconditional positive regard’ into your conversations.

  1. Suspend your judgement – This requires an increased self awareness of our own personal filters and biases that may even show up unintentionally in a conversation. Avoid making assessments about the value or validity of the persons feelings or experience.
  2. Turn down the internal commentary – Be aware of your internal thoughts as you listen. Be careful not to rush to assumption, problem solving of the situation in your head which can cause you to disengage from being present and listening.
  3. Watch your language – It’s possible to challenge behaviour and also ensure your words reinforce your acceptance of the person. Maintain body language that shows you are present and engaged in the conversation.

My experience has taught me that empathy cannot coexist with judgment. We cannot fully express empathy with a person whilst projecting judgment toward them.

A question to reflect on:
“What internal bias or judgment might be getting in the way of this conversation right now?”