Unconditional positive regard

On Sunday evening whilst you were tucked up in bed I was finishing a course I’ve helped deliver in California. There have been 3 modules of 5 days and with this commitment of time also comes the chance to really get to know the delegates. It’s been a large group of approximately 45 people so naturally there will be some you get on with better than others. It’s certainly true to say that there have been frictions and fall outs in the room. However, due to the nature of the content there is an expectation that all of us will be resourceful and work through these conflicts.

When it was time to present the certificates the lead trainer said he wanted to trial something from the work of the psychologist Carl Rogers – the idea of “unconditional positive regard”. The idea being that a therapist accepts the client for what they are, even if they disagree with their actions. By accepting the natural value of the person you provide the best chance of personal growth. The management adage of “separate the person from the behaviour” is a simple expression of this approach.

We formed a circle and as your name was called you moved in to the circle and once there everyone said a word or phrase with which they would describe you. Not one at a time but all at once. The theory being that you were underneath a shower of words as people spoke, repeated themselves, had different things to say with varying lengths. Being a slightly cynical Brit I was ready to put this down to it being California and a bit hippy dippy. I was also concerned about some of the more divisive figures in the group. However as I watched person after person hold themselves a little taller, smile a little more and become visibly emotional I was ready to accept it.

As part of the delivery team we went last and even after all that I was unprepared for what it felt like to be in the middle of 40 people who all had something good to say about you. In all honesty I couldn’t pick out everyone’s words but seeing the smiling faces around me, the warmth and positivity were amazing.

Now I don’t think I’m going to start this ritual at the end of every course I deliver but it really made me think about just how generative and affirming such a process is. It made me muse on how I can better show people that I see their intrinsic worth and value. I don’t have the answer to that, I suspect it’s a process with myriad opportunities to practice so I shall go forward and see what I find out. Anyone care to join me in this experiment?


About Jon Bartlett

I'm a coach, blogging on things that occur to me, that I want to share and any other fun stuff I find lying around in the real world.
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