‘Unconditional Positive Regard’ in the workplace

Leaders who manage to keep their staff satisfied and motivated in their jobs, enjoy much better levels of productivity and lower levels of turnover. Good leaders strive to build strong, healthy relationships with the individuals in their team where mutual respect and trust exist, and communication can thrive. There have been countless studies and research into techniques to keep staff happy and motivated, but perhaps one that stands out to me is a technique favoured by psychologists with their clients that encourages their clients to be the best version of themselves and works to develop a strong and trusting relationship between therapist and client; a technique originally founded by psychologist Carl Rogers, known as unconditional positive regard.

What exactly is “Unconditional Positive Regard’ and how does it work?

“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.

Generally speaking, unconditional positive regard requires you to be completely accepting of someone. Nothing that person can do could give you a reason to stop seeing them as inherently human and inherently lovable. That’s not to say you would accept poor behaviour, but that you accept who they are at a much deeper level than their behaviour. This technique requires you to respect the individual as a human being with their own free will, with a belief or assumption that they are doing the best they can.

As you can imagine, a therapist with this kind of attitude, will fare better in building trust with their clients so they are more willing to share their thoughts, feelings and behaviours openly and without fear of judgement and recrimination. Imagine a psychologist being judgmental or shocked with the feeling shared with them by their client. It’s likely the person receiving therapy will simply shut down and at the very least be less inclined to be so open with their therapist again. To get a little deeper into the psychology behind the technique; Carl Rogers pinpointed the idea that a therapist’s unconditional positive regard may provide the person with the acceptance and compassion they didn’t get as a child, allowing them to trust, open up, feel safe and work through their issues, leading them to the healing they are searching for. Being understood and accepted is a powerful step to healing past hurts and feelings of unworthiness.

So how can we translate this technique and use it in the workplace?

In the workplace we are dealing with complex human beings. A leader’s role is to manage these complicated, dynamic human beings to be the best versions of themselves – to be fulfilled, committed and motivated. Not an easy task and one that makes managing other people one of the most difficult aspects of our jobs. In many ways, leaders need to be tuned in to their inner-psychologist in order to get the best out of their staff. Gone are the days of leading through fear and ruling with an iron-fist. Leaders today need to embrace the concept of uncontaminated positive regard, at leastsomeof the time, if not all of the time. They need to realise that building a relationship based on trust, support, compassion, open communication and acceptance is the best way (in fact the only way) to build happy, confident and motivated staff.

The first step towards cultivating a happy, motivated work culture is to use unconditional positive regard for yourself. If you love and accept yourself as doing the best you can, we are able to operate from a place of self-acceptance making you more likely to make good decisions. Accepting yourself as separate from your actions and behaviours of the past is a good way to do this. Fundamentally you may have made some poor choices in the past, but you as a person are separate from these actions. When we accept ourselves for who we are we give ourselves permission to change in a positive way. There’s the interesting paradox – accepting yourself doesn’t lead to accepting and continuing bad behaviour, it actually gives you the confidence to make positive adjustments to your behaviour, it encourages a healthy personal growth mindset.

When we accept others as they are, we give them permission to accept themselves.

To cultivate an attitude of unconditional positive regard for the people in your team, keep these reminders/ personal mantras at hand:

  • I am here to help, understand, and provide guidelines, not criticise.
  • Your worth does not need to be earned.
  • I accept you, even though I may not approve of all the actions or choices you make.
  • I give you permission to make mistakes and I believe in our collective ability to learn from them.

Adopting an attitude of uncontaminated positive regard is something all of us can benefit immensely from – in our work life and personal lives. It’s not always easy, none of us are perfect, but it’s a great life mission to create a more compassionate and understanding world, starting with ourselves.

Could you and your leadership team do with one of my tailored workshops? I’d love to share my experience and fool-proof leadership techniques with you. Don’t hesitate. Get in touch today.

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