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Judging Others

May 31st, 2013 | By | Category: Nick Kemper's Blog

I got some spam the other day from a training materials firm that I once bought something from, drug and I glanced at the email without reading it closely. The subject read, store “5 Dumb Ways to Kill Employee Morale – and 5 Great Ways to Improve it.” I read only the first part, and I thought it read, “5 Ways to Kill Dumb Employees.” Maybe my brain read it that way because I’m dysfunctional – who knows? My first thought was: only 5? Just kidding. I love employees. If I had any, they’d back me up on that. I really enjoy other people’s employees. It really is so much fun to hang around the periphery of a deteriorating supervisor-employee relationship, doling out unsolicited advice to both parties. Mostly, I try to wait till the advice is solicited. It is so much easier to have a positive perspective on employee issues when you are not immersed directly in the issue, when it’s someone else’s issue. This is why we need peer relationships with co-workers or friends with a corporate stature similar to our own. Let’s not confine it to professional relationships, either. Husbands talk to other husbands, and wives talk to other wives, about the challenges of marriage. Parents to other parents and kids talk to other kids about the challenges of intergenerational relationships. We’re wired to sometimes see things more clearly at a distance.

I like being a grown-up. I don’t always act like one, but I like being one. I like the privileges, the freedoms, the responsibilities, the challenges. One of my brothers is going through a divorce and the circumstances of the separation and his activities immediately following required some painfully honest discourse between members of the family. One of the feelings he expressed to me was that he didn’t want to be judged. I heard the same thing from one of my other siblings – we shouldn’t judge others. People who are religious sometimes suggest that only a higher power can judge humans.

This got me to thinking. I’m very fond of pragmatic activity. What if we really tried to not judge others? How could this possibly be a good idea? Think about it. You start teaching your kids at an early age to be wary of strangers, a stark and subjective judgment that has no basis in fact. Why? For their protection. It’s not about the person being judged. It’s about your kid being safe. Volumes have been written about how important it is to make a good first impression. Malcolm Gladwell wrote a whole book about how right we usually are when we form that first impression. News flash: first impression = snap judgment. In the business world, when we interview a job applicant without any more information than the resume, references, a look at their Facebook page, and the content of the interview, we are judging based on very limited information, something many of us later rue when the dysfunctions start multiplying. Judging others is pragmatic, and necessary.

And think about a courtroom judge. Should they go a little easier on the guilty? Maybe we should change their title to “advisor.”

I think most of us would qualify my brother’s statement to say that we don’t want to be unfairly judged. But what most of us really mean by that is that we don’t want to hear the unfair judgments of others. The reality is, we all judge others constantly and often unfairly. I say let’s bring the judgments out into the open where they can be judged themselves. We were just discussing in a staff meeting the other day about how it wasn’t really fair for a recently hired employee to be surprised about being let go before his or her training period was up. I agree. I see it in business all the time, treating everything as if it is a pop quiz. Listen, if you are testing your employees, you want it to be an open-book test. You want them to have all of the necessary information at their disposal all the time. You want training to be an ongoing process, and you want it to be an endless loop, demonstrate, drill, provide feedback, rinse, repeat (the lather-rinse-repeat instruction, by the way, has got to be one of the most brilliant marketing ploys ever devised). That’s teamwork, that’s leadership. If an employee sits through a performance review and is legitimately shocked about how poorly you assess their performance, you haven’t done your job as a supervisor. You should scrub clean the record and start over with that employee.

It really is an egocentric fault to demand that others not judge you. That sentence reminds me of another reason why people don’t want to be judged – the inability to separate self from actions. Anyone who has read good parenting guidelines knows that you criticize and correct a child’s actions, not the child himself. You affirm your love for the child, then explain why you disapprove of his actions, and give an example of what action you would have preferred. Life is messy, and linguistics are doubly messy, so when we hear someone tell us that they are unhappy with us, we need to hear it as, “I love/like you, but not what you did.” Why interpret a judgment in the most personally threatening way? And remember, also, that the Judge, in this case, is another person just like you, trying to get through the day with limited data, subject to the same misconceptions and insecurities. Like Crash tells Nuke in Bull Durham when Nuke is nervous because his father is at the game: “He’s just your dad, he’s as full of crap as the next guy.” Guess what? We’re all as full of crap as the next guy. If I make a judgment about your tobacco addiction, or your taste in “music,” or your inane ramblings, I don’t expect you to engrave it in gold and make it your mantra.

And, finally, let’s not forget the nature of judgments: they don’t have to be bad. What about the good judgments? What about when I tell you you’re smart, pretty, funny, trustworthy, inspirational and you smell good? What about when I tell you that I like you, that I love you? We want to get rid of that? Hell, no, we don’t. We all have the power to tip the scales, to make 60%, 70%, 80% of our judgments positive judgments, to look for the good in others and celebrate it. So let’s tip.

I love you guys. Thanks for reading.

Nick Kemper