Recognizing when we are being judgmental in personal and business conversations is important because judging is based on our internal information instead of what the other person in the conversation is saying. When we “judge the other”, we cannot meet the other person’s needs or hear what is being said. Instead, we are listening to our own self- talk based on our opinions, beliefs, assumptions, and past thinking. Therefore, being judgmental is not being present in the conversation. And, a great skill for having masterful conversations is recognizing our own judgmental tendencies.
Being judgmental and exercising judgment are not the same. Exercising judgment is discernment of options. We do it every day when we choose what to have for lunch, what clothing to wear, or any other choice based on objective information. Being judgmental, on the other hand, kills free-flowing conversation because it is subjective. And, it may be difficult to know in the moment when we are judging. We may realize our attitude after the conversation when we receive feedback or upon personal reflection following a failed conversation. So, how do we know during the conversation if we are judging or moving in a biased direction? And, understanding our movement in a detrimental manner, how do we initiate corrective actions?
Let’s start with understanding the relationship between knowing something and taking corrective action. We may know a behavior to avoid, such speeding while driving an automobile. But, we may fail to recognize when we are speeding unless we pay attention to the speedometer. The speedometer is external assistance to facilitate taking corrective action, such as reducing our speed.
Sometimes the difference between knowing something and taking corrective action requires internal assistance. Recall a situation when you were in a group meeting and the facilitator or your boss asked a question. Silence filled the room until one of your peers responded. You thought, “I knew that,” but you failed to answer. It may have been due to your fear of being wrong, or because you are an introvert or any other personal reason. Or, it could have been because you did not recognize you knew the answer so you failed to respond.
You might think, “I had a gut feeling about that.” Your gut feeling could be your intuition, your internal assistance for recognition. Until you move your intuition into consciousness and take action you will be practicing knowing without doing. So, how do we know when we are judging or are on the path to acting judgmental? And, most importantly, how do we move our knowing into doing something about it?
As a life and business coach, I use road signs to warn us when we are judging or moving in an unproductive direction toward being judgmental. Knowing these signs, allows us to watch for becoming judgmental and to take corrective action if we have judged. Just as we watch our speedometer or traffic control signs on the highway to adjust our driving or do gut checks to test our intuition, we watch for these signs when we could judge or we are already judging in a conversation:
Examples of why each of these signs warns of danger ahead may be helpful.
Labeling a person or event
When we label, we arrive at conclusions based on beliefs rather than what we hear. Labeling voids deep listening, substituting a stereotypical conclusion for what the speaker is discussing.
Drifting away from the conversation
If our mind wanders, we’re not attentive to what the other person is saying. If we’re not attentive, we’re not listening. If we’re not listening, we’re not conversing.
Becoming impatient or feeling any emotional disconnect
When we’re impatient, we’ve shifted from listening to concluding. We’ve come to a conclusion because we believe we have an answer to what is being discussed. If we believe we have an answer, how can we be listening? And, if we’ve experienced any emotion, which is inappropriate for the conversation, we’ve also disconnected from the conversation. For example, if we become angry as we listen to a happy story, something was triggered within us rather than an appropriate response to the storyteller. When we recognize our emotional disconnect we refocus on the conversation and what the other person needs.
Experiencing breached values
Breached values may be tough to recognize. It may be difficult to be objective when our values are compromised because our values reside at the core of our existence. Although we may believe we’re objective when our values are tested, we need to examine how we will respond. Will we act based on our values or in accord with what is needed by the speaker? This question is a test of our objectivity.
Showing sympathy instead of empathy
This sign may be counter intuitive because sympathy may be thought of as support. When we say, “Oh, I’m so sorry,” our words are about our feelings rather than the other person’s needs. When we say, “How could they do that?” we’ve entered the story and have taken a position. We’re no longer being objective. When we empathize by saying, “What do you need?” We’re focusing on the speaker rather than the story. Or, if we simply remain silent, and maintain our presence, we’ve connected with empathy. Empathy is the best support.
Focusing on solutions before the other person is ready
This behavior is a trap, especially for those who want to help. When we start to fix, we’ve stopped listening, and have decided we have enough information to repair. When we focus on repair, the other person’s understanding about what has happened has stopped. Sometimes all the other person needs is to be heard. Solutions will arrive in their own order.
Others may have their own road signs to recognize when they are being judgmental. When we recognize our road signs, we shift our attitudes and behaviors from those just described, to a re-engagement in the conversation. When we re-engage we replace our judging with the other person’s needs. When the other person’s needs are met, the conversation is meaningful and productive for our relationship.
Please share your experiences by commenting below. And, share how you recognize when you are judging or have the potential to judge. What do you do when you notice you are stepping into the judging place? How do you best self-manage and get back to where want to be in your conversations?
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Richard Wilberg, MS, PLCC, ACC
Life Coach for Personal Fulfillment and Career Success
About the Author
Richard Wilberg is a coach, musician, photographer, and former business leader who lives in Madison, Wisconsin.