Source: Psychology Today
We judge all the time. We constantly evaluate, ordering the world in which we live between what we like and what we dislike, what’s good and what’s bad, and what’s in and what’s out. We don’t judge only when we think or say something unpleasant about something or someone, but also when we state an appreciation for what we like, admire, or welcome.
We constantly evaluate, especially in Western nations where we have been educated constantly to think in binary oppositions, distinguishing good from evil, sacred from profane, beautiful from ugly, or civilized from uncivilized. We see this binary opposition at work today in politics” where, when brought to the extreme, it turns into sectarian entrenchment, which appears impossible to bridge.
We constantly judge and we do so exclusively from our point of reference. To learn a new habit, we often have to unlearn an old pattern. Whenever I train individuals or groups in effective communication, I emphasize the importance of becoming aware of how we go through life ordering our world by labeling people and events. What we do not always realize is the harm we do to our interpersonal relations every time we express a judgment, be it negative or positive.
Carl Rogers, one of the most influential psychologists, once highlighted the damage that judging does to interpersonal communication:
The major barrier to mutual interpersonal communication is our very natural tendency to judge, to evaluate, to approve or disapprove, the statement of the other person, or the other group.
Thus,to become a more effective communicator, we need to learn how to restrain from constantly judging others, from putting them in preconceived categories we use to give meaning to our experiences.
Four Forms of Judging
Let me then outline here the four fundamental ways in which we judge; they undermine the quality of our communication with others. In fact, judging narrows the space where an open conversation can grow and where subjects produce a communication that transcends their individuality, giving life to a new and shared reality.
This is the most common form of judging. We criticize when we express a negative assessment to what someone says or does. When we criticize, we pose as judges and put ourselves on a higher ground. We imply that we are right and that we possess the truth—to which the other person needs to conform.
We belittle another for what he or she said or did by insulting them. We classify others by labeling them with names that pretend to be a definition of their identity”. Name-calling can often be dehumanizing—a technique that has been dramatically and effectively used to prepare an environment conducive to genocide. In Rwanda, for example, the Tutsi were labeled as cockroaches.
Analyzing (“You’re just saying that to make me mad.”)
We act like a doctor who knows what affects the well-being and behavior of another person. Of course, we imply that are the healthy ones, who know best, and thus can talk down to the other person.
Praising (“You are so talented.”)
As an educator, I know how important it is to encourage students with praise and highlight the qualities they possess. But this can also act as a relationship blocker if praise is used in manipulative ways to encourage someone to act in a way you desire. Also, overpraising might erode trust because it is perceived as insincere.
An exercise in self-awareness
Which of the forms of judging mentioned above do you use more often during the course of your day? In what circumstances do you have a tendency to put yourself on higher moral ground? How often do you act like a judge who sees reality only from his or her own point of view?
Becoming aware of your learned behavior when evaluating others and events is a first step in learning how to refrain from judging hastily, and in doing so, enable a space where authentic dialogue can be fostered. Refraining from judging, allowing for the other person to fully express himself or herself, will make you a more effective communicator—and you will experience an improvement in the quality of your relationships.