The American Psychological Association defines unconditional positive regard as, “an attitude of caring, acceptance, and prizing that others express toward an individual...according to Carl Rogers [unconditional positive regard is] a universal human need essential to healthy development.” Unconditional positive regard is essential for development, self-awareness, self-worth, and personality growth. This concept has been highly revered in the psychology community but remains unnoticed by the executive coaching industry. Clearly, unconditional regard is essential for development, but what exactly is it, what does it look like, and how can executive coaches use it to their advantage?
“The greatest gift that you can give to others is the gift of unconditional love and acceptance.” - Brian Tracy
What is unconditional positive regard?
As stated previously, the American Psychological Association defines unconditional positive regard as “an attitude of caring, acceptance, and prizing that others express toward an individual irrespective of his or her behavior and without regard to the others’ personal standards.” Having unconditional positive regard for someone else is having genuine care for someone without regard to their behavior, actions, or beliefs. Unconditional positive regard can be related to the care a parent has for their child despite their tantrums as a toddler. Unconditional positive regard goes beyond goals and actions. Unconditional positive regard at its core is valuing the life, experiences, character, potential, and personality of others.
“Be curious, not judgmental.” - Walt Whitman
Unconditional positive regard in executive coaching settings
Unconditional positive regard in a coaching relationship can be shown in many ways. For example, when action plans or goals are not followed through, an executive coach can easily feel frustrated, let down, or disappointed. While these feelings are valid, an executive coach can acknowledge these feelings on their own and still express unconditional positive regard for their client. This can be done by coming from a position of compassionate curiosity and asking questions such as “what do you think held you back from achieving your goals?” Executive coaches can also display unconditional positive regard for their clients when they share difficult challenges. If an executive is suffering from the consequences of a poor business decision, an executive coach can still show them unconditional positive regard. They can do this by still listening to their opinions, seeking to understand their perspective, and valuing their desire to be better leaders.
Benefits of unconditional positive regard
Unconditional positive regard is considered a necessary component to development (APA, n.d.). It is essential for an individual to become their best self.
“The role of a creative leader is not to have all the ideas; it’s to create a culture where everyone can have ideas and feel that they’re valued.” - Ken Robinson
When others experience unconditional positive regard, they can “accept even their worst traits and feel valued and whole” (Myers, 2004). When executives feel valued by their coaches, they are more likely to share their genuine perspectives and engage in honest and developing discussions. Furthermore, when executives feel “whole,” their confidence increases in regards to their own ability to fulfill goals and challenges.
Carl Rogers, the developer of Unconditional Positive Regard, believed that when therapists specifically treated their clients as though they are “doing the best they can with the tools and resources they have available” that clients in response were more likely to engage in “constructive behavior to drive their decisions and their actions” (Ackerman, 2021). In executive coaching, this can translate to a coach believing that a client is doing their best to achieve their goals. As a result, a client’s likelihood of goal accomplishment could be increased.
As new challenges arise in the workplace, creative problem solving is often essential for executives. Licensed clinical social worker, Debra Halseth, states that parents who “show unconditional positive regard to their children open up opportunities for children to be creative in problem-solving” (2020). While executive coaching is very different from parenting, this finding can be applied to the executive coaching relationship. When discussing potential solutions for a business challenge, an executive’s creativity can be encouraged by their coach’s unconditional positive regard towards them. This gives them the opportunity to discuss a wide variety of ideas and solutions without fear of judgment.
Applying unconditional positive regard to coaching
Unconditional positive regard can be actively applied to the executive coaching process in many ways. Consider the following tips and tools for the use of unconditional positive regard in your coaching practice.
“People are just as wonderful as sunsets if you let them be. When I look at a sunset, I don’t find myself saying, “soften the orange a bit on the right-hand corner.” I don’t try to control a sunset. I watch with awe as it unfolds.” - Carl Rogers
Questions without judgement
A sure-fire way to reduce a client’s experience of unconditional positive regard is to coach them from a place of judgment. For example, if an executive shares a challenge they feel that they failed, responding from a place of judgment would include responses such as “well that was the wrong decision” or “I would recommend doing _____ next time.” These responses judge the client and do not support an atmosphere of unconditional positive regard. In order to coach with unconditional positive regard, executive coaches must ask questions that come from a place of genuine care such as “explain to me why you think _____” or “what do you think caused you to do _____?” These questions open the floor for the non judgemental discovery of patterns, behaviors, and beliefs of an executive—giving the executive coach an opportunity to show their unconditional positive regard for their client.
Another way that executive coaches can use unconditional positive regard in their coaching is by helping their clients create a clear vision for what their own genuine goals are. This means that executive coaches put their desires for a client’s business to the side, and focus on what a client genuinely wants for their business. Sometimes this may require a referral to another executive coach, and other times, this requires self-awareness and dedication to unconditional positive regard.
“Whatever anybody says or does, assume positive intent. You will be amazed at how your whole approach to a person or problem becomes very different.” - Indra Nooyi
Assume positive intent
Dr. Diane Brennan and Alexandra Ross of the International Coaching Foundation share that one way executive coaches can use unconditional positive regard is to “assume positive intent.” They state that choosing to ask and not assume a client’s intent, “allows us to be open to possibility as well as to be fully present with our client” (Dr. Brennan & Ross, 2017). When goals are not accomplished between one-to-one sessions, it can be frustrating for an executive coach. While it may be tempting to assume an executive is not dedicated to the development of their leadership or business, an executive coach can choose unconditional positive regard, assume positive intent, and ask questions that clarify their challenges, intent, and behaviors.
The main takeaway
Unconditional positive regard is a genuine care an executive coach can have for a client. It assumes positive intent, clarifies goals, and questions without judgment. When executive coaches embrace this characteristic, clients feel more valued and whole, are better able to achieve their goals and are able to develop their creative problem-solving skills. Unconditional positive regard is essential for development and holds great power when executive coaching.
“The most important thing in good leadership is truly caring.” - Dean Smith
Ackerman, C. (2021, June 9). What is unconditional positive regard in psychology? PositivePsychology.com. Retrieved November 24, 2021, from https://positivepsychology.com/unconditional-positive-regard/.
APA. (n.d.). APA Dictionary of Psychology. American Psychological Association. Retrieved November 24, 2021, from https://dictionary.apa.org/unconditional-positive-regard.
Diane, D., & Ross, A. (2017, July 10). Coaching presence and being at your best. International Coaching Federation. Retrieved November 24, 2021, from https://coachingfederation.org/blog/coaching-presence-and-being-at-your-best.
Halseth, D. (2020, August 27). How does conditional positive regard affect well-being? BetterHelp. Retrieved November 24, 2021, from https://www.betterhelp.com/advice/attachment/how-does-conditional-positive-regard-affect-well-being/.
Myers, D. G. (2004). Psychology. Worth Publishers.
Walczak, M. (2019, August 26). Unconditional positive regard. Coacharya. Retrieved November 24, 2021, from https://coacharya.com/blog/unconditional-positive-regard/.
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