How to Overcome the Harmful Habit of Judging
You’ve done it. I’ve done it. We all do it—we all sometimes pass judgment on others when their behavior (or anything else) isn’t up to snuff. Clothing choices, how people spend their free time, job skills, expressing emotion, the list of possible things to judge is endless.
You’ve been on the receiving end, too. While you may not consciously label them as such, you are familiar with nonverbals that convey judgment: pursed lips, raised eyebrows, crossed arms, tilting head to literally look down upon another, or a nose curled up in disgust or contempt.
Being judgmental, of course, is very different from making judgments. You have the right and responsibility to use discernment and make evaluations. Discernment and evaluations focus on using information to make wise decisions. Does this employee demonstrate the necessary skills for a promotion? Is this meeting a good use of my time? How would I have handled that difficult situation differently?
Being judgmental negatively focuses on other people so that you can feel better about yourself. I can’t believe that good-for-nothing employee thinks they could handle a promotion… There’s no way I’m wasting a half hour of my day listening to that big mouth blab about nothing… I would have NEVER handled that situation that way—what a disaster!
We judge others to protect our own egos. But that protection comes at a price. Judgment costs creativity, curiosity, and trust. And with it comes defensiveness, stereotyping, and hostility.
Judgment is just a dressed-up version of shame. As Brené Brown wrote in her book Dare to Lead, research demonstrates that we judge others in areas we are most susceptible to shame ourselves, especially when we’re pretty sure we’re at least doing better than “they” are in those areas. We heap the shame on to someone else so that we don’t have to feel our own.
If you want to stop being judgmental (a wise choice given its side effects), reduce your susceptibility to shame. Shame can hit you from many angles. If you lack confidence in an area, it can produce shame. If you have been shamed (especially publicly) in the past, that can leave long-lasting wounds that easily resurface. If you have impossibly high standards, you are setting yourself up for shame. At the root of all of these is the sense of not being good enough. I wasn’t good enough, I’m not good enough, I’ll never be good enough. And so, you find someone else who is even less “good enough” than you to judge.
Many years ago, a client was sent to me for coaching because she openly displayed contempt for certain coworkers. “They just stand there and YAK all day and never do any work!” she complained to me in her session. “They’re lazy, annoying, loud, and stupid! And fat! Maybe if they got up off their butts once in awhile instead of doing nothing but yak all day they’d lose some weight. And maybe stuff would actually get done.” As it turned out, my client was completely demoralized at work. The organization wasn’t accomplishing their targets and she felt useless and powerless. She’d given up hope and wasn’t doing her best work. But at least, she thought, she was doing something! She was better than the gossipy busybodies who never did anything! Instead of dealing with her own shame over “wasting her life” and phoning in her work, she had found someone else to judge. It’s easy to do—much easier than looking inward.
When you feel judged by others, remind yourself it’s a reflection of their own battle with shame, not who or what you are. Yes, you make mistakes, don’t know everything, and sometimes behave badly. Maybe really badly. That’s true.
But you are more than your mistakes. You grow. You learn. You change and improve. You accomplish and achieve and win. You make more mistakes. You keep going. You always were and still are valuable and worthy. You will never be perfect. But you already are enough.
When you accept your flaws and mistakes and still see yourself as a worthwhile human being in spite of them, you can in turn accept other flawed human beings, too. The more you like and accept yourself, the less you have to put others down.
Judging others creates a false, fragile sense of self-worth. If you find yourself doing it, stop. Don’t beat yourself up for it, but do take a look in the mirror. Where do you need shoring up? It takes some thoughtfulness and work, but you’ll have better relationships, improved trust, more creativity, and greater influence when you stop judging others and start valuing yourself.