Are you being judgmental without realizing?, part III

May 6, 2011 by Joshua
in Awareness, Blog, Tips

The past two days covered the how we can be judgmental without meaning it — first with clearly judgmental language, then with implicitly judgmental words. Today let’s look at exercises to change.

My normal first step for change is to start by building awareness. In this case, changing builds awareness so much and the exercises are so easy (they don’t involve anyone else), I recommend just starting with the change.

There are two exercises that you can do separately or together. They sound trivial, but if you’re diligent, you’ll find yourself catching subtle behavior all the time. You’ll be amazed at the little things you say and how you start thinking differently.

Exercise 1

The first exercise is to replace judgmental language.

With what? Usually with more accurate descriptions of your thoughts. Often with simply keeping silent about your judgments. (To clarify — by being judgmental, I mean expressing judging; judging seems inevitable and not a problem if you keep your thoughts to yourself.)

Examples of more accurate descriptions of your thoughts, using the examples from yesterday’s post. Instead of these statements,

  1. “People on the left say X. People on the right say Y. I’m not political about it, I’m practical and I look for a practical solution.”
  2. “John is extreme. I prefer the middle path.”
  3. “Sally works too hard. She needs to balance work and life.”
  4. “If Jane were a real manager, she’d …”
  5. “I know you like to do X, but in the real world we have problems that require …”
  6. “The reality of the situation is that…”
  7. “The truth of the matter is…”
  8. “You have to look at the facts and the facts are clear.”

try these

  1. “Everyone has different values. The way I see it, the following makes the most sense.”
  2. “John is more intense than me. I find calmness works better.”
  3. “Sally works harder than most people I know and says she wished she could spend more time with her family. If I were her I’d find ways to cut back on the hours at work.”
  4. “I don’t like how Jane manages. If I were her, I’d…”
  5. “I know you like to do X. My situation has considerations that make it impossible.”
  6. “As I see it…”, “I believe…”, “It looks to me like…”, etc.
  7. “As I see it…”, “I believe…”, “It looks to me like…”, etc.
  8. “As I see it…”, “I believe…”, “It looks to me like…”, etc.

Exercise 2

The second exercise is to avoid all judgmental terms for a week. You’ll be surprised at how many show up.

Overt ones:

  • Good
  • Bad
  • Better
  • Worse
  • Right
  • Wrong
  • Positive
  • Negative
  • True
  • False

Covert ones:

  • Reality
  • Real
  • Truth
  • True
  • Balance
  • Practical
  • Pragmatic

Some things you think are good others think are bad. If we all agreed on everything life would get boring. We can’t anyway, since we have different interests. We say something is good when it meets with our values and bad when it conflicts. That means someone with different values will at times disagree with what we say is good or bad.

People who think we’d all agree on something being good or bad imply they have knowledge of some absolute. For every person I’ve met who claimed knowledge of some absolute, I’ve known at least one who claimed knowledge of an absolute that differed. So much for absolutes for at least one of them, perhaps both.

For this exercise, when you want to evaluate something, think about what makes it good, bad, right, wrong, or whatever. If you think it’s unnatural or against a religious teaching, to say it conflicts with experiment or your observation or quote your scripture lets someone know you disagree with them, but communicates the sources of your values. They may not agree with you, but you’re less likely to generate an argument and share more of yourself.

Evaluation only makes sense in the context of a system with a purpose. Goodness, badness, and other evaluative terms refer to how well the subject of conversation meets the purpose of the system. That purpose depends on your values. Imposing your values on someone else — claiming what’s practical for you is practical for them or in an absolute sense — is judgmental and repels many people.

Telling people what the truth reality is when they disagree tends to lower your credibility, no matter how much you think someone will agree with you when you just tell them something is true. You also invite argument. The same holds for any claim to absolute knowledge someone could reasonably disagree with.

In general, you can remove words like truth, true, reality, real, and other references to absolutes from the sentence with a bit of care. For example, “The truth of the matter is that this country has a huge deficit” could be “This country has a huge deficit” or “I believe this country has a huge deficit.”

More persuasive is to give the reasons why you believe it. For example, “This country’s deficit relative to its GDP is at its largest in a century.”

I searched the web for “the reality is that.” The top five results could have the clause removed with no logical change in meaning and fewer words. At least by Strunk and White‘s standard of “omit needless words” (rule 13 here), they’d be better.

  • The reality is that the U.S. has few good policy options.
  • The reality is that we love mean judges.
  • The reality is that there is no water and the people, the citizens, have to understand this and save water, because if the people were …
  • The reality is that we are always under pressure.
  • The reality is that life’s not that bad.

When I first did these exercises I was surprised at how much evaluation my language had and how much I assumed others shared my values. Recognizing others’ values differ leads me to see, appreciate, and celebrate diversity in others more, learn from them, and enjoy time with them more.

Tomorrow I’ll look at some of the most annoying hidden judgmental language.

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5 responses on “Are you being judgmental without realizing?, part III

  1. Pingback: » Are you being judgmental without realizing?, part IV Joshua Spodek

  2. Pingback: Joshua Spodek » How to stop being so judgmental

  3. Pingback: “Extremes” usually aren’t » Joshua Spodek

  4. Pingback: Are you being judgmental without realizing?, part II » Joshua Spodek

  5. Pingback: How to hate less and grow in the process, simply » Joshua Spodek

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