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 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.