What it means to not judge people, personally or professionally

Courtesy Wikimedia
Courtesy WIkimedia

Want a way to sound enlightened? Claim you don’t judge people. You’re above that. You don’t get dragged down into the mud, fighting against the frustrations and resentments that overwhelm most people.

And of course that’s a crock. Unless you’re not paying attention, or you’re Buddha-level enlightened, you judge people.

Then what does it mean to not judge someone? Here’s what I’ve come up with. When you claim to not judge someone, you mean that you deliberately confine your judgments.

If someone does something that frustrates you, or disappoints you, or surprises you, you react. You judge. It’s how our minds work. We use judgment to evolve our worldview. Judgment helps us extract value from our observations.

Judgment itself isn’t bad. You run into problems when you let the judgment of one event run wild over your worldview.

Your boss gives you one crappy assignment, and all of a sudden, he’s out of touch. He doesn’t understand or respect you. He doesn’t know what makes you tick.

Or, a crappy assignment emerged, and he thought you were best positioned to manage through the inevitable frustration. You are the most patient, even-keeled team member he has. Or any other number of explanations. But if you allow the judgment around this one event to pollute your broader relationship with your boss, you lose.

If you find patterns of judgments, that’s when you can more confidently evolve your worldview. A one-off judgment, particularly resulting from a frustrating or disappointing situation, can be way too poisonous. That’s why you have to “not judge” people, even though it’s not literally true. What you’re doing is putting guard rails around your judgments, finding ways to use those judgments most effectively.

And you don’t just judge other people. You judge yourself. One forgotten assignment, and you’re prone to distraction. One failed pitch, and you’re not a persuasive speaker.

All judgments exist in a broader context. It’s really difficult to be “fair” in this regard. Given the same stimulus, you’ll respond to someone you like more favorably than someone you don’t. Same behavior. Same outcome. Different judgment, because the context is different.

As scientist and engineers, we’re judged every day. The story people have in their heads is that we’re numbers people. We’re precise. We’re curious.

But we lose sight of the larger picture. We can’t appreciate when precision is necessary, and when it isn’t. We ignore nuance. That’s the story, and people around us judge our behaviors accordingly.

The takeaway is three-fold:

  1. Be careful how broadly you apply your judgments. Isolated judgments shouldn’t affect your worldview as much as patterns of judgments.
  2. Be cognizant of how your judgments impact new and ongoing relationships. Human beings are slaves to story. If you choose an unflattering story about someone else, know how much damage you may inflict on that relationship.
  3. Recognize that other people judge you based on context. You fit a role in their lives. The better you understand the role you play, the better you can predict, and take advantage, of how you’ll be judged.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *