Judgment: Stop It From Sentencing Your Relationships

by Brian on January 17, 2012 in People Skills

I was sitting at the airport gate on my way back to Austin and I noticed a group of people who were obviously part of the same company and coming back from a convention. They were in their off work casual clothes and I found my mind unconsciously drawing conclusions about who they were:

“The tall, lanky one in the white sneakers, blue jeans, and button-up black shirt looks like he’s the douchebag boss who was promoted too early and thinks he knows what’s going on but is actually an idiot.”

“The guy in the over-sized khaki pants and over-sized North Face jacket is a space brained middle-manager whose brown suits never quite fit right. He thinks of himself as an outdoorsman, but never makes it much further than the grill in his back yard.”

“The apple-shaped, stressed out looking lady is the office manager who sadly over commits to her job yet goes largely unappreciated by the douchebag boss. I’d rather shoot myself than put that much energy into a job so unrewarding.”

As I listened to my inner monologue, I became aware of how acidly judgmental my thoughts were.

I like to think of myself as a pretty open-minded person who is all about letting people live the way they want to live without any interference (so long as they aren’t hurting anyone), so it was a bit of a shock to me to see a sharp disconnect between one of my cherished beliefs and the actual thoughts in my head.

However, rather than judge myself for being judgmental I decided to probe into these feelings and see what I could learn from them.

Judging Vs. Connecting

The problem with judging people is that it generally cuts you off from connecting with them.

If you want to make more friends, meet a new lover, or build powerful influence in business, then the only way to get there is through connecting with other people.

How do you think these people will feel about you if they realize that you are judging them for their faults?

How would you feel if you were meeting someone for the first time and they were judging you for your faults?

Is either of these situations likely to result in a mutually fulfilling relationship with another person?

You cannot be judging people at the same time that you are connecting with them, and you cannot be connecting with people at the same time that you are judging them. It is not possible to do them both simultaneously. You do one at the expense of the other.

Another less obvious symptom that you are judging people is that as you listen to them you find yourself merely agreeing or disagreeing with what they say rather than just being with them and really understanding what they are saying to you.

The Secondary Payoffs of Judging

Whenever we notice a behavior or aspect of ours that we don’t like, it’s important not to blame ourselves for it or make ourselves “wrong” for it.

On some level, a part of us is doing that behavior because it is trying to take care of us and it believes that doing those actions will make us safe. Often it isn’t a new behavior, but one that has been with us a long time that we developed as a young child making decisions about the world from a child’s perspective.

As I thought it through, I realized that as far back as I can remember I have indeed been passing borderline hateful judgment while idly people watching.

It acts as a sort of defense mechanism. As ruggedly independent as I have been all my life, there is still a part of me that worries about what other people think of me and is afraid of rejection.

By judging people before I even interact with them I am able to make them “wrong” in some way and put myself on higher ground. Then if and when I actually do interact with them I don’t have to care what they think of me. I mean, really, who cares what this “wrong” person thinks anyway?

My judgments are particularly harsh when I project onto someone a way of life that I perceive as a threat to the world I want to live in.

Looking at the band of office workers put images of the horrors of punching in at 9am on the dot to work in a small, grey cubicle in my mind and multiplied my loathing of them. Almost as if I loathed them enough I would be able to wipe “office” style working off the face of the planet.

These secondary payoffs I get from judging others are equally as childish as the behavior itself.

However, it’s important to remember that blaming yourself and making yourself “wrong” for an undesired behavior is like blaming the part of you that is still 5 years old. It just wants the best for you and it doesn’t really understand why it’s being punished.

Instead, comfort that part of you as you would a 5 year old child and let it know that you understand it was only trying to help you, but that there is a better way that will make you both happier.

People are Built to Fuck Up

I once spoke with a business coach who has worked with management and executives in Fortune 500 companies and he dropped the profound statement on me that “people are built to fuck up.”

We perfectionists and people who hold high standards for ourselves have a very difficult time dealing with people who have obvious flaws, but don’t seem to have any desire or inclination to fix them. It is particularly frustrating when these are people close to us like friends and family.

One area that I’m still struggling with is letting it be okay for other people to make mistakes and empathize with them rather than just being like, “what is wrong with you?”

However, we may not see that people are trying to improve. We may also have an over-inflated sense of how well we are doing ourselves.

Our own mistakes are often invisible to us, but mistakes others make stand out in high relief.

Comedian Eddie Peppitone described the phenomenon best when he said, “When I make mistakes it’s part of the process. But when other people make mistakes, it’s just wrong.”

Even if an “I told you so” might be thoroughly deserved, sometimes there is no more meaningful way to connect with someone than to let them know that you are still on their side even if they have messed up.

Escape From Judgment

Ending judgment doesn’t mean that you stop evaluating what is happening around you. The difference is what you do with the information.

Instead of looking for things to judge as “right” and “wrong,” it’s more helpful to think of yourself as a sort of anthropologist making objective observations about your environment and using that information if and when it’s useful.

“Oh, they must be in the same office. That guy is probably the boss.” Rather than, “Man, look at those sad ass office workers and their douchebag boss.”

It’s also not necessary that you like everyone and everything.

For example, I still loath the idea of working in a traditional cubicle office environment. However, just because other people do doesn’t mean that I need to feel threatened about my desired way of life as if I were about to be sucked into the cubicle vortex.

It also doesn’t mean that you have to put up with an endless stream of bad behavior from someone. If you have a boyfriend who beats you, leave him. You don’t have to judge the person as right or wrong, but you do have to employ a certain amount of discretion as to where your boundaries are.

As you wait in line at the store, interact with colleagues, or interact with your significant other, notice where it would help you to stop judging and start connecting.


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