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More thoughts on being less judgmental

posted by Joshua on August 14, 2011 in Awareness, Blog
2 responses

A reader wrote, in response to Friday’s post “How to stop being so judgmental,”

Thanks Joshua for the insight on judgement. I have used less negative words and have already replaced them with a more positive intake on certain topics to avoid negativity. By doing so, I have noticed a more positive reaction from peers and friends, which leads to more productive outakes on actions in a general sense. Thanks! :)

First, thank you for the rewarding feedback and you’re welcome if I’ve helped you make your life more like you want it. I can think of little more rewarding than to contribute to someone improve their life.

You touched on a fine point I hadn’t clarified in the post. Frankly, I haven’t completely clarified it to myself (partly leading to the length of this post, which is, in part, newly exploring some ideas). That point is to distinguish between three distinct acts: not judging at all, judging positively, and expressing one’s judgment.

Regarding not judging at all, I don’t believe anyone can avoid judging. As best I can tell it’s part of how we’re wired. One of my most meaningful strategies, “Always interpret everything positively,” explicitly judges, but purely internally, for myself, according to my values and tastes, implying nothing to anyone else about theirs.

Regarding expressing judgment, I found using judgmental words antagonized people and avoiding them avoided arguments so I try to avoid using them — even positive judgment (though see tomorrow’s post for exceptions).

Why avoid expressing even positive judgment? For one thing, you can’t judge positively without implying negative judgment other times. For example, say someone gives you three gifts. Say you love the first and express positive judgment, saying “It’s great!” Then say you love the second and again say “It’s great!” Now say you don’t love the third. What can you say to avoid expressing negative judgment?

People who try to express only positive judgment get caught in such traps all the time — often without realizing it. Others readily sense implicit judgment, especially of themselves, often without consciously realizing it, in which case it can seem hypocritical or creepy if the person expressing judgment seems to think they aren’t being judgmental.

For another thing, going back to reasons to avoid expressing positive judgment, judging means evaluating based on a set of values. When you express judgment of someone, you imply your values are more important than theirs. Since people have reasons for their values, they will perceive you as not understanding what supports their values. Since their values are ipso facto important to them — in fact, the most important things to them — your credibility will decrease in their eyes. What hurts a relationship more than lowering your credibility?

I wouldn’t suggest avoiding expressing judgment, even positive, if I didn’t have alternatives. Also, recognizing my advice being unsolicited, I welcome constructive criticism on it.

The first alternative is to express the criteria leading to the judgment. I find expressing my criteria conveys clearer meaning without antagonizing. It shares information about me without suggesting others have to agree with me. Regarding those three gifts in the example above, sharing what about them I like, find useful, or whatever led me to think they were great tells them about myself. Such information leads to better gifts! Likewise, sharing what led me not to like or find useful in the third one doesn’t say the gift or giver is bad, it says something about myself and my tastes.

Thinking of what to share takes more thought, I find, than merely expressing judgment, but I’ve also found the results worth the effort — more understanding and fewer arguments. It gets easier with practice.

The second alternative is to keep quiet on evaluation, perhaps showing appreciation or gratitude for someone’s effort. When someone gives you a gift, you can simply say “thank you.” Feedforward uses this principle. Using feedforward reinforces how much more showing appreciation instead of judgment wins friends and influences people.

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2 responses on “More thoughts on being less judgmental

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

  2. Pingback: North Korean strategy: how does the world look to North Korean leaders? | Joshua Spodek

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