exercising judgement

Wow! How time flies! We are coming towards the end of the first quarter and as I reflected on this period, looking for some interesting perspectives to share, the word “judgement” came up. It happened in some of my discussions with clients, in class during training and even in my own reflections as I pondered through the events of the day.

A student, in our coach certification class, recently asked, “Can we really be judgement free?” What a great question! The discussion brought about several other related words and phrases such as “being judgemental” and “exercising judgement.” So, I will attempt to create a distinction between these words and share how these distinctions have helped me gain clarity of my thoughts and actions, as a person, coach and board member.

“Judging” is a process of arriving at a conclusion or decision. This process is exercised by court judges, competitive event judges, ICF competency assessors and, most of all, ourselves daily. In the process of judging, there is a reference point, a set of criteria or a benchmark that is referred to. When judges assess a performance or an event, they based it on a set of agreed criteria. When we judge situations or people, our reference point is often our own set of criteria that is influenced by our values and expectations. When it meets our own set of expectations, we attribute it as “good” and otherwise as “bad.”

When we are “being judgemental,” we arrive at our conclusion in a rather hushed and rapid manner, often unconsciously, without totally considering all information and perspectives. At this judgemental state, we tend to hold on to our opinions strongly, even though there may be evidences that point otherwise.

So, can we really be free from judgements? In my opinion, I don’t think so.  However, with a high degree of mindfulness, we can often observe ourselves making these judgements. With this awareness, we have a choice; a choice to either respect the differences, appreciate the diversity and celebrate the richness of life or to hold on to our biases, firmly.

Exercising Judgement

With “exercising judgement,” we are constantly looking for new information to make our conclusions and decisions. We also do not firmly hold on to these conclusions and opinions with a 100 percent degree of certainty. We maintain curiosity and openness to new information and know that we can be wrong with the existing data that we have.

With this awareness, I have learned to accept differing perspectives, consider the pro and cons and leverage what makes logical sense to arrive at a better conclusion and decision, sometimes using my gut instinct as a source of information, too. I also realized that in the process of exercising judgement, it is easier said than done. This is especially so when we feel strongly about certain issues and when we believe that we are right. As a mindfulness practitioner, I do catch myself in this position many times and I ask myself, “What is this person seeing that I’m not? What could I learn and see if I stay open and soften up my stand?” Often, I end up discovering that I have made some assumptions that are not true!

As I’m serving my second term as an ICF Global Board Member and my first as Vice Chair, I cherish these learnings and growth that the role has offered me. I marvelled at the way we arrive at decisions, even though our starting points can be very different. I believe a large part of this lies with our common intention to be mindful of who we serve. With such diversity of experiences within our board members, each boldly expressing opinions and yet staying open to different perspectives, we have rich, deep dialogues.

Perhaps, this is one of the biggest benefits of being trained as a professional coach; we are trained to be mindfully present, actively listen, clarify and constantly exercise judgement in support of whatever conversations that we may have. It is a wonderful profession that we are in; not just in helping our clients change, but also in the process of changing ourselves, too.


Wai K. Leong
2017 ICF (International Coach Federation) Global Board Vice Chair

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