Who are we to judge others?


In a recent discussion on leading with trust, I was asked, “How can we let go of beliefs about others?" For a split second I was confused. Then it dawned on me. Our beliefs about others are essentially judgments. Our judgments are based on what we see as right and wrong. So what gives us the authority to decide what is right and wrong with others? What would happen if we were more accepting of others?

What kind of a signal am I sending out? And how much of an impact is that having on my communication?

We judge all the time. Not just with words. Our thoughts and opinions are conveyed through our body language, facial expressions and tone. In fact in 1971, Professor Albert Mehrabian’s research indicated that as much as 93% of our communication is non-verbal. With this in mind, we have to ask ourselves, “What kind of a signal am I sending out?"

How can we know what, or who, is right or wrong? How can we be sure that we are right?

Our judgments are based on our perception of right and wrong. Our perceptions are based on our beliefs. Our beliefs are the lens through which we see the world and are based on our experiences, culture and upbringing. This means that our lens will colour how we see the world. If our lens is blue, it will intensify what is already blue and lead us to see blue where there is none. If our judgments are based on what we see through this lens. If everybody’s lens is different. How can we be sure that what we see is right?

What if our judgments are expressions of something that we need rather than something that is bad?

In his book Non Violent Communication - A Language of Life, Marshall B Rosenberg states that our “analyses (i.e. judgments) of others are actually expressions of our own needs and values”.  He goes on to say that the behaviour of others may be a stimulus for our feelings but not the cause. In other words, it is “our own need that causes our feeling”. So, if our judgments are an instinctive response to feelings, such as anger, frustration, righteousness or helplessness. If our feelings arise from unfulfilled needs. Identifying the need that wants to be fulfilled enables us to acknowledge and accept it. Naming what we need that we feel we are not getting reduces the emotional charge. This can allow us to release our judgment. So the question we want to ask ourselves is, "What is it that I am needing, that I feel I am not getting?"

It's not that she doesn't care, it's that she cares too much!

A few weeks ago I was really feeling frustrated with a colleague’s ‘indifference’. After a particularly tense meeting with both of us walking on eggshells, I took a step back to reflect on what was going on. Imagine my surprise when I realised that my frustration was nothing to do with my colleague’s lack of contribution. She had actually delivered what she said she would. What was really going on was that I felt unheard and unacknowledged. What I needed was for her to respond to my emails and queries, rather than ignore them. When I spoke to her about this, I learned that she was far from indifferent. In fact she had been working until midnight. Hardly a sign of someone who didn't care! But she was overloaded, overwhelmed and struggling to prioritise the demands of multiple clients.

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and right-doing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.
— Rumi

Everybody has the right to be seen heard and valued

We all do it. We all judge. It’s a feature of our Western culture. We judge based on what we think is right and wrong. We see people and their behaviours through our lens of the world. We make assumptions and opinions based on our beliefs. We compare how we ‘perceive’ people with how we think they should be. Comparison can be useful for improving aspects of our world, however, it can be very destructive for our relationships. It is far better for us to investigate what it is our judgments are letting us know that we need.

Carl Jung tells us that,  “Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.” Let’s also keep in mind that everybody has the right to be seen, heard and valued. If we find ourselves judging others, let's use this as an opportunity to deepen our awareness of ourselves and enhance our relationships with others!

Why not try:  Observe your judgments of others. Reflect over the last couple of weeks. Think about times where you were upset by another person’s behaviour and write down the quality in him or her that is most upsetting to you. Include your friends, family and colleagues. 

  • What is it highlighting for you?
  • What it is that you see in others that you can also see in yourself?
  • What is it that you might be missing?

You might like:  Non Violent Communication - A Language of Life by Marshall B Rosenberg