Practice non-judgmental interpretations

When we express judgment and criticism we may shut down any chance of an open and honest discussion.

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Why this matters

When we interact with others, especially when they’re stressed or emotional, it’s natural to try to understand the reasons for their negative emotions and reactions. We are often quite accurate when determining the causes of and contributors to other people’s positive emotional states. However, we’re less accurate when we judge others’ negative emotions, which is unhelpful for open and honest dialogue. Take time to develop a non-judgmental understanding of others, their behaviours and their reactions to situations.

You can leverage this information when you Provide negative feedback

Explore and reflect

When we deal with emotions, especially those we find difficult, we can make assumptions and judgmental interpretations. Below are some examples of assumptions and possible underlying issues:

  • Tim’s always angry because he’s a jerk. 
    • It could be that Tim’s often angry because he:
    • is dealing with family or relationship problems
    • has chronic pain
    • feels blamed or attacked
  • Nicole’s always on the verge of tears because she’s such a softie.
    • It could be that Nicole’s often on the verge of tears because she: 
    • is experiencing depression or anxiety
    • has a child who’s very ill
    • fears losing her job
  • Danielle’s always anxious when there are tight deadlines because she’s not cut out for her position.
    • It could be that Danielle’s anxious during tight deadlines because she: 
    • has perfectionist tendencies that don’t serve her well
    • is unable to express her frustration about other people not doing their share
    • is approaching or is in burnout

When we’re aware that our assumptions and judgments about people may not be correct and may not be the entire story, we’re able to respond in a more effective way. Instead of voicing your assumptions or judgment, take time to first listen to understand other people’s perspectives.

Communicate without judgment

To help avoid making difficult conversations worse, or neutral conversations difficult, you can:

  • Turn down your internal dialogue. Stay focused on what’s being said, rather than thinking ahead and speculating on unspoken
  • Breathe, stay calm and neutralize your emotions
  • Listen carefully and acknowledge the validity of alternate
  • Move from judgment to curiosity by asking questions to gain better understanding
  • State your observations and experiences neutrally using specific examples, rather than personalizing a situation by generalizing about someone’s character
  • State your perspectives, needs and desires
  • Reframe the problem into a mutual, objective statement that recognizes common

The above list is deceptively simple; these are challenging techniques that can take considerable time to master. But each item on the list represents an indispensable tool for managers who want to be effective at minimizing the emotional nature of interactions.

Take action

Notice your thoughts, assumptions and judgments about others. Be aware of how many of these thoughts are objective or factual. For example, “Tim’s speaking in a loud voice” may be factual while “Tim’s angry or a jerk” may be your judgment. This process can help you develop constructive and non-judgmental interpretations of workplace situations and behaviours. It’ll take time and practice, but will eventually start to feel natural.



Contributors include.articlesDr. Joti SamraMary Ann BayntonWorkplace Strategies team 2007-2021

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