When it comes to judging other people, I think it’s inherent in all of us to do it to some degree. But do you know how judging others impacts yourself and the things in life you want?
Let’s explore what judging others can do when you do it correctly or incorrectly, and I will share some easy techniques to control your judgmental desires.
Why Do We Judge People?
We have intelligent brains, even if it doesn’t always feel that way. I see it with clients I coach every day who realize that their mind does everything to protect them.
It’s not you who’s doing the judging. Instead, it’s your brain – usually the subconscious part – that’s doing all the work. You are just going along with it, not challenging it. (Learn about the brain’s mistakes here: 7 Mistakes Your Brain Makes Every Day – And How To Fix Them)
If you go back to our prehistoric ancestors, it was our bigger brain and ability to judge, decipher, and conceptualize things that ensured our safety and existence in the 21st century. As the University of California’s evolutionary theorist, Rob Boyd, said, “Think about what is necessary to live in Alaska. You’d need a kayak, a harpoon, and a float not to sink. Nobody invents a kayak. People learn the proper way to make a kayak from others.” 
Hence, some judgment will always be useful. You need to be mindful of how, when, where, and why you are giving that judgment.
Among the many reasons why we judge people, we mainly do it to stay safe. When you walk down the street, for instance, your brain is working on ensuring your safety, so you judge others’ actions before they do anything. That’s obvious, right? But what will you do when it happens at work or more subtly in your life?
Here’re 2 examples with my clients that show why judging others is bad for anyone:
The Corner Cutter
I want to share a story about my client, who was so fed up with a team member who always finished work at 5 P.M. sharp and was notoriously known for cutting corners. No one seemed to have an issue with it except my client. It infuriated my client and damaged their career. They claimed that the corner-cutting team member was the problem, but it wasn’t. It was them.
You see, you could never change other people, but my client’s brain made them think that their career success depended on what everyone else was doing. That is a fast step towards disaster. It’s impossible to get everyone to work in the same way as you do. Eventually, my client convinced the company to coach their team. We discovered that no one saw this person as a corner cutter, though. Seething, my client reported dozens of occasions in which their team member didn’t do their tasks and judged the person on their personal standards.
When I coached the whole team together, we could see the disparity between what my client thought was going on and what was genuinely happening.
The corner cutter ended up asking, “Do you read everything everyone sends you? How do you get anything done?”
My client exclaimed, “Doesn’t everyone do that?!”
While the client saw a lack of precision and carelessness in the corner-cutting team member, other people were merely focusing on their area of expertise and letting others get on with their jobs. Thankfully, my client is now back on track and achieving more because judging others undoubtedly wore them down.
Being on a Pedestal
People often looked at me in horror whenever I said, “Everyone is doing the best that they can with what they perceive they have.”
It’s tough to see bad things happening in your life and not judge others based on your own standards, but remember that not everyone is you. Our brains jump into automatic overdrive and tell us they are!
Imagine everyone is standing on a tall column like a pedestal made up of lots of blocks. Each block comes in the forms of:
- Your beliefs at this time
- Your values (which can also change)
Now, imagine removing all the matching blocks on the pedestal. Can you see how you can be left with people who are more superior or inferior to you?
Let’s apply this idea in a real-world scenario. Another client of mine was annoyed with anyone who messed up at work. Some awful things happened to them as a young adult, and it taught them always to do the right thing. Never break the law, forever abide by rules, and if someone tells you to do something, you do it!
When people didn’t live the same way as they did, my client felt disrespected, unloved, undermined, and unappreciated. Could you imagine what impact it had on their life and success?
Though the client tried to hide it from us, we helped them see that the people around them didn’t share the same experiences, so they couldn’t see the world through their eyes. The first sign that my client was changing was seeing them walk in the room, grinning.
“I didn’t feel crossed today,” the client said. When I asked what they meant, they explained that they got behind the wheels without ranting about others’ poor driving skills.
One of the little exercises I set for the client was to imagine that the person driving in front of them was not an idiot or buffoon (their words, not mine). Instead, it was someone who was driving for the first time after getting involved in a big crash, a sick child who’s on the way to the hospital, or a parent who made a cake for their daughter’s wedding. It helped them change their perspectives about why people do things.
“When you judge others, you do not define them — you define yourself.” — Earl Nightingale
How to Stop Judging Others
A lot of people struggling to stop judging others tend to be control freaks. (Mind you; being a control freak is not a bad thing. It can be an excellent thing if you can manage it well). Control freaks like things a certain way and are good at getting positive results in life, so they feel as if their actions are validated.
The issue is that it doesn’t happen to everyone, so you can easily find yourself rubbed the wrong way. That’s when they say things such as:
- “It has to be done that way.”
- “They never do what I ask.”
- “I could never do that.”
- “That’s impossible.”
It is typically enough for me to call out a client regarding the finality of their words and try to shift their perception about people, their actions, and outcomes in life so that it does not become a problem again.
When you use words with finality, your brain sees the ultimate end destination and doesn’t notice any possibilities around it.
Of all the things you can do to make a judgment not an issue, you may look out for the assumptions you make in your head about others, what is possible, and what you think about your personal and professional life.
If you struggle with the above concept, communicate it to others. There is a difference between gossiping and wanting to understand something. I was talking to someone who had a similar hardship to my family member. They told me it was impossible to talk to my relative. I explained how my conversations with the said relative started with things like, “I would like to share how I feel about something” instead of what my friend was saying, which was, “Why do you have to do that all the time?!”
Be mindful of your phrasing and style of language. If you are looking to remove judgment from your relationships, ditch the “why” word. It adds blame and guilt to the question. But if it goes like, “What do you think the reasons are…,” it takes the responsibility away from you and enables you to have difficult conversations with someone.
2. Try to Understand What Others ACTUALLY Need
Often, when we go through something, we get judged because of it. If you want to see this in action, tell people at work, at the gym, or home, “I had a bad sleep again last night.”
Suddenly, you will be inundated by people who want to offer the perfect solution for you. I know this because a good few years on a chemo medication for my lupus robbed me of sleep, and I became fascinated by how many ideas people had, especially when they were making assumptions about why I couldn’t sleep. Some of them were:
- “You need to get off your phone.”
- “You work too hard.”
- “You don’t do anything to relax.”
- “You can’t drink coffee in the afternoon.”
The list could go on and on and on and rarely were they right. Those folks did not even bother to ask if I was on a medication that was notorious for causing severe insomnia. Still, I didn’t get mad at them because the bottom line was that these people were just trying to help. When you realize that, you can reshape the way you see the world.
Another excellent example of that is a new parent. Their baby is crying in a public space, and they fear that everyone thinks that they have poor parenting skills. The irony is that it’s the very opposite thought that most people have, which usually sounds like, “That poor Mom/Dad! I’ve been there — no sleep, loving their beautiful bundle, but worried sick that I would mess up or, worse, miss something wrong!” Most new parents are not quick to realize that bringing a baby to a restaurant lets them earn comments like, “Oh bless, new parents! It’s a hard time, but it’s amazing!”
3. Reframe Your Mindset to See How Others Judge You
Have you thought about how judging someone or being judged ruins your life?
“We don’t judge people when we feel good about ourselves.” — Brene Brown
Keep in mind that judging people is done to keep us safe. We want to help others, even though we really can’t help ourselves. If we don’t wade in with a view, we could look like we don’t care. At the most basic level, humans need other humans.
People struggle with others’ opinions, especially when they are told to move on with their life and get over something. That’s easier said than done for some people, though. By inserting yourself in their case, you stop the other person from finding the best solutions for them.
You may bounce out of bed after a breakup, for instance, and think, “They aren’t holding me back!” Meanwhile, others may need time to overcome their grief and reflect before they move on.
I see my clients in this situation all the time. Some want to concentrate on the future and define what they want. Others need to go back to understand what they got and didn’t want. Which one do you identify with?
Judging what you would do based on what someone has to do is ludicrous. So, curb the voice that wants to say, “If that happened to me, I’d get up and keep going. You can’t give up now; otherwise, they’d win.” Lucky for you, you don’t know how to deal with it because you will not go through the same ordeal. If you are in doubt, it is best to listen and keep any advice to yourself.
4. Challenge Yourself to Look Beyond the Obvious
The pandemic has done many awful things, but I feel like it has helped to level the playing field. If everyone is the size of a small box on your screen, and you can’t see their footwear, smartphone, clothing, watch, etc., you lose your ability to view another person.
Challenge yourself with these statements:
“They drive a new car. They must be good at their job.”
(Someone could be up to their eyes in debt, struggling with their life and scared that people would discover who they were or who they thought they were!)
“They have no pride in themselves. Their clothes are always screwed up or dirty!”
(A person could be a full-time carer who worked from 9 to 5 and was lucky to get five minutes to themselves a week. In reality, are they not more dedicated and hardworking than most people you work with?)
“They are so together and always make time for me no matter how busy they are. I wish I could be that brilliant.”
(Someone could be harboring deep fears, thinking, “I’ve got to help everyone.” Unfortunately, they are nearly burnt out, depressed, and struggling to function because they fear what others will think of them if they don’t do everything that others need and want.)
This is how judging people can be so dangerous.
But is there a time when you can judge others?
When Should You Judge Others?
The same reasons that can stop people from speaking up in a crowd help fuel domestic violence, discrimination, and injustices in the world. As the founder of The Business Womans Network, we have helped those affected by domestic violence many times.
In every case, it wasn’t just the victim who feared being judged — the people around them feared receiving judgments, too. We often heard how neighbors or friends “had their suspicions” but did nothing. They did not want to judge others and assumed that everything was alright.
In people’s defense, new research suggests that our brain causes this bystander effect. Interestingly, it proves that we need to look to the world around us — our network of connections — to create a judgment. Then, ask yourself, “How are others responding to it?”
If something feels off in their response, your brain may be up to no good as it tries to ensure that you fit in.
But it is in “not fitting in the world” that things get better. Sometimes, speaking up is not at all easy. Judging others on a new standard is a big challenge, so build your confidence first and keep going no matter what.
Rosa Parks, Emmeline Pankhurst, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi – our history is fuelled by people who judged and decided that it wasn’t good enough.
I’ve helped individuals speak up against workplace bullying and discrimination. On every occasion, everyone knew what’s going on, but only my client had the preferred outcome, strategy, communication skills, mindset, and action plan to make a change.
Remember: finding the judgment can keep you safe, but it can also keep you stuck.
More on Understanding Judgments
Featured photo credit: Adi Goldstein via unsplash.com