“Don’t judge me!” This is an all-too-common phrase a 40-something woman I know uses liberally.
She says it in a joking way. As if she can read the disapproving thoughts that another person is having about her appearance, language, car, habit, even restaurant menu choices, she throws up a block. Don’t aim your judgements my way!
Actually no one wants to feel the sting of being judged by another. A coaching colleague recently told me that what makes someone likable or not has a lot to do with if they are perceived as being judgmental. Jesus even took time to advise against it: “Stop judging, that you may not be judged…Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove that splinter from your eye,’ while the wooden beam is in your eye? You hypocrite, remove the wooden beam from your eye first.” (NIV Matthew: 7)
So, being judgmental not only makes you unlikable, it makes you a hypocrite.
Why does judging come so easily? We have evolved to constantly look for patterns, make assumptions, and avoid risk. But when our internal narrative is full of (often unconscious) bias, this process can be self-damaging or end up hurting someone else. A mind kicks in to judging mode when it feels threatened—maybe the person is perceived as more powerful in some way, so we focus on what’s “wrong” with them. Of course, the healthier your own self-esteem, the more you can simply have compassion instead of a defensive or disparaging posture.
What the best leaders do is to look through the lens of discernment vs. judgment.
To paraphrase the late Thomas Leonard, master of distinguishing distinctions, one can discern (observe everything) without judging (comparing or diminishing the person).
For example, it is your job as a leader to discern what is going on, who a person is, what’s in their way, and what is not yet understood. Leaders learn to have compassion for another person’s humanity, even when judging them would be justified. (Especially, develop compassion for yourself.)
“Be curious, not judgmental.” Though erringly attributed to Walt Whitman, it’s still a thought-provoking quote. How you can use this as a leader is to catch yourself on the fast slide from discernment to being judgmental, and simply become curious. You may or may not ask questions—you may want to just focus your lens to be more observant. If you have made the mistake of saying something judgmental which you now regret, own up to it and apologize.
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” ― Maya Angelou