The human capacity to judge, to form an opinion or conclusion about, as the dictionary says, is universal and valuable in the right dose at the right place and the right time. Without good judgment, our lives would drift to unwanted places and outcomes because of miscalculations. In many roles, as leaders, parents, friends, and colleagues, others seek out our good judgment, often built upon a big foundation of expertise and wisdom. The human capacity to judge well, allowing us to live well by our good judgments, deserves deep appreciation. The inner judge is essential to our performance, growth, and well-being. In my latest co-authored Harvard Health book, I call the inner judge the Standard Setter.
On the other hand, judgment carries quite a risk if it conflicts with others’ worldviews and values, or steps on their autonomy and ability to find their own way. It’s particularly risky if we wish to use our judgments to change people. "People don’t resist change, they resist being changed," said Peter Senge. Relationships are impaired and our influence is thwarted when others resist our judgments.
In contrast, in the right dose at the right place and time is the opposite, the human capacity to “non-judge.” I call the non-judge the Curious Adventurer, open-minded, flowing free of opinions and conclusions, bringing a sense of adventure and deep curiosity into this moment. When we activate the “non-judge,” enabling another to get into the driver’s seat, his/her need for autonomy - to march to his/her own drummer - is supported, preventing resistance.
Much of my professional life is devoted to teaching health professionals to engage the inner non-judge so that they become change agents, connecting and catalyzing others’ growth in capacities, well-being, and thriving. A moment of possible influence is the moment to set one's personal agenda aside and cultivate another’s autonomy and confidence in finding his/her way. Another such moment is when others are dealing with their misjudgments; adding our own judgments makes matters worse. To continue the automobile metaphor, in these moments, ideally one's inner judge gets out of the driver’s seat and into the back seat, while one's non-judge gets into the passenger seat, conveying an open, curious mind.
Here's an inspiring story about the downside of the inner judge and the upside of the non-judge. I lead a five-day course on coaching psychology and a student wrote me to share an inspiring story of the life-changing impact of non-judgment:
The day after the final class, I turned my phone on to learn that a close friend had shot himself in the head, but survived, and was in a hospital. He was conscious and aware, but a mess, and wanted to see me. He had done a lot of physical damage to himself and I was terrified to see his face, until I worked through my fear and was able to let it go. Talking with him that first and subsequent times was an incredible experience where I had absolutely no judgement (for real not forced). I was full of empathy and compassion and love and everything else without ever, not once, experiencing a negative emotion. I can tell he shared the same experience.
He had been in a hell of self-judgment and judgment from every single person around him since the event and this was all he needed, not advice, not anger, no questions of why, just a judgment-free zone with someone who didn't inject their own selfish reaction to his experience into every conversation.
I truly don't think I would have been able to have this experience were it not for our course. I used every single ounce of the material we learned to get through the trauma. I used all of 'me' to keep the rest of my life on track in the midst of this trauma and no one has suffered because of that decision. Thank you for dedicating your life to such an important discipline.
To judge or to non-judge: it's good to appreciate both and use them wisely.