How to Stop Judging and Transform Your Relationships

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You may have been harshly and wrongly judged at some point in your life, and you may have harshly and wrongly judged someone else. Whether a relatively benign mistake or indication of deep hypocrisy, this judgment may have distanced you from another person.

Realize that judging others can distance you from other people

In the past week, the topic of judging arose in a couple of very different situations, making me consider the damage that judging can cause.

One involved an online forum in which personal finance bloggers complained that they were frequently misjudged by acquaintances and even family members who don’t understand the nature of their work. One person summarized that there are many who believe that you can’t be financially stable without a 9-5 office job.

In a face-to-face conversation, some friends and I also talked about judgment, both bad and good. We realized that we often need to make fast judgments as a way of streamlining decisions, and that’s generally okay.

Problems arise when we allow our prejudgments to influence us to the extent that we make poor decisions based on information gathered at a glance; refuse to consider new information unbiasedly; and use information to disparage, disregard, or dehumanize someone else. Done wrong, the quick reaction can often distance ourselves from other people and ruin otherwise promising relationships.

These discussion reminded of (what I perceive to be) the generally-accepted takeaway from Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking: we need to (and should!) make snap judgments, which are often surprisingly accurate.

It’s true that we often develop and unconsciously use decision maps based on experience and training to streamline decision-making processes.

But one of the main points of the book is that these maps can be flawed. In fact, they can be so wrong that when we receive new information, including data that contradicts our initial conclusion, instead of changing our minds about a situation, we contort our interpretations of new information so that is nicely fits within our original judgment.

Consider whether judging is the same as making an assessment

In Matthew 7:1, Jesus tells his followers, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.” But, in Matthew 10:16, he advises us to “be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” I am not a theologian or ancient-language scholar but it seems that there could be two distinct meanings of judging:

  • to condemn
  • to assess a situation

From my perspective, when I render judgment, I most likely believe that I am merely assessing a situation. But from the perspective of the person who is being judged for their actions and words (or lack of actions and words in a certain situation), I may be condemning.

Admit you are not all-knowing and start expanding your mind (and heart)

Though I realize that I need to assess to make a prompt decision and possibly protect myself, harsh judgment can distance me from other people. So, I considered specific actions that could improve judgment and transform relationships:

  • Acknowledge that you can err in judgment.

    Start by conceding that you could have been wrong about a person or a situation. You may have received incomplete information, misjudged motivations, or speculated wrongly about the nature of past behaviors.

    You may not have fully understood the judged person’s reasons for not correcting your misconceptions (perhaps she feels intimidated or she lacks the time to give a full explanation).

  • Gather more information.

    Learn to pursue clarification with an open mind and nonjudgmental stance. After you come to terms with the possibility that you may have prematurely judged a person or situation, gather facts. Talk to those with first-hand involvement. Consider the possibility that an involved friend or colleague may be withholding information, either unintentionally or intentionally.

    In short, after you make an initial judgment, gather information that includes listening to all sides of a story. Then assess a situation, allowing yourself to reverse your initial decision if necessary.

  • Talk with more people and focus on listening.

    The more conversations you have with people of different backgrounds, whether educational, geographical, social, economic, or ethnic, the deeper understanding you can gain about a variety of subjects. If you are ready and eager to listen to other people, you are more likely to meet people with fascinating careers, family histories, research projects, etc.

    For example, during a post-ride get-together after a recent weekday bike ride, one of the cyclists asked the others what circumstances allowed them to get out during the normal workweek. You may have thought everyone was unemployed or retired. However, the responses revealed interesting professions: a former IT specialist turned bartender/instructor; an executive assistant to a pastor with days off during the week; a freelance writer; a flight nurse; a physician; and an artist.

    Further, you can work with friends and acquaintances to challenge common misconceptions. You might pose questions about conventional wisdom in this person’s field, and gain insights into how to best apply and modify your initial judgment based on a framework of decision making.

  • Learn from a variety of sources.

    Expand your base of knowledge, beyond superficial understanding. This process may involve reading books; broadening your consumption of media (whether news, commentary, or entertainment); or taking part in new experiences.

    The more you know, the more you can realize that possibilities exist beyond your immediate experience. You can more readily imagine that the work-at-home blogger has a strong presence in a niche market and generates a full-time income, for example; or the kid who doesn’t brag about his grades may actually be studious and smart, etc.

So the challenge is twofold. First, recognize when you are being judgmental and stop judging negatively, particularly when your judgment distances you from other people. Then, find ways to educate yourself, either immediately or over a longer period of time for deeper understanding, including facts, circumstances, and motivations that you may have never imagined.