Unconditional positive regard

In a previous post, I wrote about hope. I quite like that post, it kind of describes me.

Unconditional positive regard. I remember learning about this on my Psychology course when it comes to therapy and counselling. This is something quite challenging. Imagine it, you have to sit with the person opposite, and unconditionally regard them with positive intent. No cynicism, no interpretation, no negative bias – accepting what they say is the truth, and accepting that they want the best.

Could you do it? Imagine all the people you encounter every day, and with every one of them, you have to hold them in unconditional positive regard. I can’t do it. I’m not thinking I particularly should. But how do you judge a situation and decide with which person you should practise this thinking? How discerning and intelligent must you be to be able to do this?

You can see why it’s important for counselling and therapy purposes. The counsellor / therapist is there for you, and they are trained in helping you to be your best self. That means they can’t and shouldn’t judge you, criticise you, or react to you in a way which you feel you cannot trust them. You have to be able to speak with this person with utmost confidence that they can and will respect you for who you are.

Humans only have so much capacity for this type of behaviour. It’s really hard to maintain that kind of thinking and do it with everyone. It takes conscious energy and will to make that happen. We place expectations on pretty much every interaction we have, be it digital or physical, and that means we open ourselves to either being delighted or disappointed. If we’re delighted, it’s easy to be positive towards others. If we’re disappointed, the last thing we want to do is look for anything positive in another person.

Even therapists and counsellors have their supervision and support sessions where they blow off steam and ‘let it out’.

Consider then at work how much more challenging this is. In HR we face day to day issues that people want to come and talk to us about which directly affect them in one way or another. And, in the main, we can influence the outcome of that interaction – either the person is delighted, or they’re disappointed. How many people do you choose to hold in unconditional positive regard? Not many I’m betting.

Maybe you try hold you manager in this regard? Maybe some of your colleagues? Maybe the person you sit next to? Or a director or senior manager?

So what do we do? Suddenly think the best of everyone we come into contact with?

I want to help you. This is my default position. It means I’ll empathise with you and try to get the best solution for you. It doesn’t mean I won’t judge you, or choose to not believe you, but I’ll put that to one side while I try help to help you.

Well, why not?

Here’s what we know. We know that people who help others achieve something feel better about themselves in the long run. We know that at work, when we help our colleagues to do something, they tend to be appreciative and share the good story with others. We know that engagement at work is about the support and inclusive feeling we have. We know that when we are trusted to do our work, we produce our best work.

It’s hard. If achieving something great was easy, we’d all be doing it.

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Published by

Sukh Pabial

I'm an occupational psychologist by profession and am passionate about all things learning and development, creating holistic learning solutions and using positive psychology in the workforce.

2 thoughts on “Unconditional positive regard”

  1. Good post. It is really hard, and why I decided not to pursue the therapy route. Nigh on impossible in a performance-driven environment I would sugges. Because there is always a bigger agenda that needs fulfilling, the individual voice gets put to one side. Perhaps why so many of us need therapy?

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