😳 4 Tips to Quit Judging People

I know you’ve done this. You’ve walked into Wal-Mart and have seen some atrocious outfit that is two sizes too small on an overweight woman or man. You roll your eyes and suddenly don’t feel so bad that you didn’t put on lipstick before heading out to shop on a Saturday morning. You’re at least presentable. Or, you’re reading a company email and notice someone’s name has been misspelled. You smugly fire off an email to the offending author to point out their error. You feel you have one over on everyone else. You are mentally making the case for your own superiority. It’s nice to be you. You get to be Judge and Jury to all the “lessers” gliding by. The problem is that it saps your energy and puts you into what the Arbinger Institute calls “a heart at war.” When you judge others you are ticking off the ways that they are not perfect. The gain is fleeting, the long term affects are that you start judging yourself as well. You are seeking perfection in everyone, especially that person in the mirror. I can remember asking my now ex-husband if I was as fat as another woman walking down the street. Like, as long as I’m not as fat as that woman, then I’m better than. You end up in a constant state of comparison.

I recently read The Anatomy of Peace, by the Arbinger Institute. It’s a great read as it is written as a story instead of being a text book on resolving conflict. The minute the lead character “Lou” starts justifying his feelings and thinks, “…when I betray myself, others’ faults become immediately inflated in my heart and mind. I begin to ‘horribilize’ others. That is, I begin to make them out to be worse than they really are. And I do this because the worse they are, the more justified I feel as myself.” This is me at Wal-Mart. I’m thinking, “Look at how poorly that screaming child is behaving” or “That cashier is incredibly slow” or “Can you believe that family has six kids?” I’m viewing them as objects which means I am so much better. It’s this constant exercise in comparison and justification that is exhausting and closes you off from really relating and connecting with others.

So here are the 4 surefire steps to quit judging others:

1. See others as people. This seems like it should be obvious. But when you really think about it, although you might see that they are living human beings, the minute you discount them in your head, you are turning them into objects. What I try to do instead is think “I wonder how her day is going.” This keeps me from seeing someone as an object and helps me be more empathetic and human I just tried this at Walmart. The cashier was going through the motions ringing up my stuff and I kept trying to make eye contact. I wanted to meet her gaze so I could smile at her. She wouldn’t let me in. I was an object in her eyes. It’s a two-way street and you have to keep to it.

2. They appear just as real to me as I do to myself. I think this is what John Gottman calls “Turning towards.” As Gottman defines it, “A bid is any attempt from one partner to another for attention, affirmation, affection, or any other positive connection. Bids show up in simple ways, a smile or wink, and more complex ways like a request for advice or help.” Accepting bids is a way to turn towards others in your life whether they be at work or at home or out in the world. Turning toward at work would be saying something like “yes and” instead of “no” to the idea of a new venue for an event. This is an old improv trick. Improv doesn’t work unless you accept the “bid” from the other person. Saying “no” or “but” is turning away or shutting down the bid.

3. Their cares and concerns matter to me as my own. This is true empathy. If you think about it, how can you be in conflict with a co-worker if their concerns matter to you as much as your own? It’s similar to the CRR Global tenet, “Everyone is right…partially.” Owning that everyone has some truth is critical for progress. It gets you out of digging your heels into your own righteousness. Go out and imagine slipping into your adversary’s shoes and walk around a bit.

4. I actively respond to their humanity. I’ve spoken on this topic at several corporate events. Everyone (I mean everyone) wants to be heard. I can remember the most sickening moment of my life was in a class when I was earning my Master’s Degree. The instructor had me sit in the middle of the room and told me to say something very profound. In the meantime, she secretly told everyone else to turn their backs to me and talk to each other. I felt ill. Marginalized. Small. Insignificant. There was no air in the room. No one was listening. The thing I learned from that experiment is being heard is a basic human need that is about as important as air.

I know this isn’t easy. It’s much simpler to pass judgment on someone. To discount them into an object and roll on. But as the Arbinger Institute says, this is a heart at war and a heart at war is in constant conflict. Open your heart to being a heart at peace and embrace the humanity that surrounds you.

How to Quit Asking Why 

I was the member of a Mastermind Group about ten years ago.  It was a terrific experience working with Human Resource professionals from different industries around the Raleigh/Durham area.  I always remember one of the ground rules for Mastermind, which is a group of like-minded professionals who discuss confidentially current issues in their job or business and meet on a regular basis. The ground rule was to not ask Why. I remember thinking that that seemed odd.  After all, haven’t I been asking why since I was about 3 years old?  Seems like an obvious, simple question to get to the bottom of an issue or problem.  But think about it for a moment when I ask you the following questions:


Why are you late?

Why are you early?

Why are you on time?

Why are we going?

Why is it hot?

Why haven’t you?

Why won’t you?

Why don’t you?

Why is that there?

Why don’t you just…?

How does that feel?  I know it makes me feel defensive and diminished. Like I belong on a stool facing the corner in my kindergarten class.  Is this really how I want to treat people? It can be interrogating, demanding, confrontational and judgmental all at the same time. It focuses on the problem instead of insight and solutions. What about some alternatives?

How to quit asking why:

Describe the situation.  Let’s say your employee is late with an important project.  Instead of asking “Why is this late?”, you could ask:

Tell me about the timeline for this project.

How did this get off track?

What were some obstacles you had to deal with?

What were the circumstances that led to this situation?

You are more likely to get better insight into what is causing delays for the employee that you may not realize; and be more proactive towards solutions going forward. This tests your assumptions and can open your eyes to the whole situation.

Getting unstuck. Let’s say your employee rarely seems to make progress on one aspect of their job like sending in status reports or proofing their work.  Instead of asking, “Why haven’t you completed the reports?” Or “Why don’t you check your work?”, you could ask:

What have you tried so far? 

How did it go? 

What is getting in the way? 

Who could help you? 

What other resources do you need? 

It’s important that this doesn’t open the door to you, as the boss, to take over.  It’s more about discovery for your employee to find ways to get unstuck. Instead of you prescribing the answer. 

Look for understanding.  What can be loaded into “why” is implying that the employee isn’t good enough.  Like, “Suzy finished on time so why didn’t you? “Or “Joe’s slideshow had 50 slides, why did you only have 10 slides?” This is loaded with blame and makes the employee feel less than.  You could ask instead:

What was your thought process…?

What other options have you explored?

How did you arrive at this decision?

Tell me more.

Tell me about that.

It’s important at this point to sit back and listen with an open mind and curiosity.  Frequently, if we are a new leader or new to the organization, we feel like we need to have an answer and solution for everything instead of looking for the wisdom in those that work for us.  

As a coach, I really try to steer clear of Why, and a little bit of shorthand for me is to ask either, “How” or “What” or “Help me understand”.  How about you?  What do you use in place of Why?