3 Steps to Non-Judgment

woman glares at man

A vital element of coaching presence lies in the non-judging of clients and whatever they share in coaching conversations.

In “Full Catastrophe Living,” Jon Kabat Zinn, PhD, describes the mindfulness attitude of Non-Judging: “… judgments of mind tend to dominate our minds and make it hard for us ever to find any peace … and can be extremely unhelpful in the context of meditation … premature judgment and rejection of experience is extremely common. ‘Being with’ whatever arises requires gentleness, kindness …”

While I strongly dislike and rarely use the words “judgment” or “judging,” I can appreciate applicability in the context of discerning and/or sound decision-making. However, I take exception to those words and resulting actions when they relate to labeling someone or some things as good/bad or right/wrong—being “judgmental”—which can result in imposing guilt and/or assigning blame as well as shame.

As is the case for most people, I’ve acted on and sometimes still slip into judging thoughts; however, I’m mindful to avoid bringing that negative energy into any situation. I’ve found the following three steps useful in creating and maintaining non-judgment:

  1. Suspending or letting go of thoughts: This involves noticing if/when any level of judgmental thought surfaces and mindfully breathing as I let go of, or suspend, the thought. I then refocus to the present moment, with an open mind and heart. Mindfulness meditation has been a great practice to hone this skill.
  2. Cultivating non-judgment of thoughts: When meditating mindfully, as any thought surfaces, I simply observe without judging it as good/bad or right/wrong and without analyzing why it arose. I gently let it be while refocusing back to my breath—“being with” and not doing anything with the thought.
  3. Tapping into core values to override judging thoughts: In noticing if/when my thoughts involve being judgmental toward a person or situation, I mindfully breathe and connect to my core values of openness and non-judgment. In a millisecond, I can easily shift from judgment to non-judgment.

While I have a reputation of being non-judgmental, as outlined in the story below, I’m a work in progress!

As I steered my cart down a grocery store aisle, a woman was pushing hers with a baby girl (having a temper-tantrum) seated in the front. To the woman’s right, a little boy was tossing items from shelves to the floor. On her left, a little girl was crying to be picked up.

The fifth person involved was a man walking about three steps ahead of the shopping cart. Strolling slowly, he seemed oblivious to the chaos behind. At the end of the aisle, he waited for the woman and children to arrive then proceeded to stroll down the next aisle—three steps ahead of the cart.

I offered to help and the woman smiled, sharing that all was fine. Indeed, the children’s crying and fussing subsided quickly.

Our paths crossed again in numerous store aisles and my anger mounted in each instance. My internal self-talk was judgmental and in high gear: “What kind of man treats a woman like that?! How dare he treat her with such disrespect! What a *&%$@#! JERK!”

At the checkout, the woman placated the children while placing groceries on the conveyor belt. The man observed from the end of the counter—I was fuming.

After paying, I walked toward the exit and noticed the man, in the distance, slowly strolling in my direction as the woman loaded bags into the cart and juggled needs of the three little ones.

In leaving that scene behind, I felt relief as the exit doors slid open…that relief was short-lived.

I took about three steps beyond the sliding doors that closed automatically behind me.  My attention was immediately drawn to a tall, muscular, young man who was screeching profanities as he marched furiously toward the store, throwing punches to the air with clenched fists.

He was at the far side of the parking lot, and we were the only two outside the store. Within moments, he’d advanced to the middle of the parking lot and punched a car while screaming.

On suddenly taking an intuitive deep breath, I realized that I hadn’t budged since exiting the store! In that moment of unfreezing, I noticed that the angry young man was about two-car lengths away and on a path headed directly toward me.

Before I had time to react with fear, I heard a strong, calm whisper from behind, “Don’t worry, I’m here!” The strolling man gently placed his left hand protectively on my back as he anchored beside me to the right. He added, “Just look away; don’t look at him.”

Following those wise words, I breathed a sigh of relief when the screaming young man charged past us and entered the store.

As I turned and thanked the man, he said, through fear-filled eyes, “My wife and children are in there!”

He started to bolt toward the store entrance as his wife ran out with their three children and the cart filled with groceries. As he picked up the little girl and boy, the mother pulled the baby from the cart, and they all ran to their car, with the husband shielding his family to safety.

By that time, I’d reached my car and called 911. The police arrived immediately and took the young man to a hospital; fortunately, there was no incident in the store.

As I drove toward the parking lot exit, the man steered his car by mine—we smiled as we waved to each other.

We rarely have the full picture of a situation and never know how experiences will unfold until they do—I didn’t in the midst of fuming down the store aisles.

My “Being With” angel showed gentleness and kindness after I’d held him in judgment. This experience, which happened several years ago, continues to remind me of the importance of living in non-judgment.

What steps do you take in cultivating non-judgment?


Carolyn Hamilton-KubyCarolyn Hamilton-Kuby, PCC, CEC, is a coach and public speaker known for her vibrant spirit and calming presence. She’s the owner of Morningstar Leadership Development, a part-time business in Kingston, Ontario, Canada. Carolyn holds a Graduate Certificate in Executive Coaching from Royal Roads University. She also graduated from St. Francis Xavier University (Diploma & Certificate in Adult Education and Diploma in Ministry) and St. Lawrence College (Certificate in Human Resources Management.) Carolyn is a Certified Practitioner in Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) and Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® (MBTI®.) She’s also a licensed trainer for Coaching Out of the Box® and an Official Partner of World Business Executive Coach Summit (WBECS). Carolyn invites you to visit her website at http://mstar.ca/site/ or connect with her on LinkedIn.

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