Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in.

– Isaac Asimov

It’s not differences that divide us. It’s our judgements about each other that do.

– Margaret J. Wheatley

The focus of this blog is to invite you into the thinking about the “learner mindset” that can serve as a tool to get a relationship back on track.

The support for family relationships through professional coaching often focuses on the mindset of individuals and the assumptions they are holding about how they should be interacting with one another and who is responsible for the quality of the relationship. In a coaching conversation, it often becomes apparent that the positive influence of family relationships can easily be derailed when expectations on either side are not met. Once individuals are in a place of assigning blame or doubting themselves, the relationship becomes an exchange of emotional reactions, which often widens the gap in the relationship. This mindset is referred to by Marilee Adams as the “Judger mindset” and perhaps more graphically by Rosamunde and Ben Zander as a ”downward spiral”. The focus of this blog is to invite you into thinking about the “Learner mindset” and how it can serve as a tool to get sidetracked relationships back on track.

Adams has created “The Choice Map”, which is a visual summary of the Learner/Judger mindset. It illustrates how a person’s thinking, listening, and speaking in every moment can impact how he or she behaves and relates. We are actually “hardwired” to adopt the “Judger” mindset “as this mindset is fundamentally about survival and protection. The predominant emotion that activates the Judger is fear. A large misconception about this mindset is that it is a negative frame of mind.  It is often viewed as something that we should train ourself to avoid and we often believe that it only exists in certain people or that certain people can be labeled as ‘judgers’, however this is not the case. The important realization is that the term Judger should not be used as a label of a person – but of a mindset, and further,  becoming aware of when we are in the Judger mindset, will teach us to  stop, reconsider our emotional attachment to the situation, and check our assumptions. The thinking that drives movement from a Judger mindset to a Learner mindset in Adams’  Choice Map is that we need to welcome, understand and engage with our judger mindset and the Judger mindset of others, so that we can create a bridge to the Learner way of thinking,  For many individuals, this is a new way of thinking. The predominant mood that activates the learner mindset is curiosity and awareness of self and others. This “switch” from a Judger mindset to a Learner mindset is initiated through learning how to use questions intentionally, strategically and skillfully. Coaching is about working with individuals in the coaching relationship to help them discover their ability to access and use questions in a way that will allow for this mindset “shift”. Following coaching sessions, individuals have reported that they start to see themselves and others in a different light, which allows them to achieve more satisfying results and relationships.

An Invitation:

The next time you find yourself asking the following Judger questions:

What’s wrong with me?

What’s wrong with them?

Whose fault is it?

Why doesn’t anything ever work for me?

Why is that person so clueless and frustrating?

Haven’t we been there, done that?

Why bother?

*Notice how these questions affect your mood and confidence.


Consider Switching questions:

Am I in a Judger mindset?

Is this what I want to be feeling (or doing)?

What would I rather be feeling (or doing)?

What could happen if nothing changes?

How else can I think about this?

Am I willing to switch?


Consider Learner questions:

What do I want? What are my goals?

What do I appreciate about me?

What do I appreciate about him/her?

Am I being responsible?

What can I learn? What’s useful?

What is the other person thinking, feeling, and wanting?

What are the best steps forward?

What’s possible?

*Notice the impact of these questions on your mood and confidence.

I would be curious to hear from you to learn how this Learner/Judger Choice Map works for you. Please share your experiences with recognizing the Judger mindset and the impact of asking yourself the Learner questions. Are there any other questions that have helped in switching your mindset to one that was more solution focused!

For more details on the Choice Map and the work by Marilee Adams check out:

Other resources you might be interested in:

Adams, M. (2013) Teaching that changes lives

    • Great resource for anyone who is working with children – both young and old

Adams, M. (2009) Change your question. Change your Life

    • Great resource for adults in relationships and business.