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If you do not adapt, if you do not learn, you will wither, you will die.

Friday, June 17, 2011

The value of being nonjudgmental

We do it all the time. We form opinions, we put people and situations in boxes, we decide on right and wrong, we categorize, we judge. Judging is a necessary activity. Without the skill to judge it would be an unpredictable, threatening, unsafe, and difficult world to live in, or more than it already is at times and more than it needs to be. Think of situations like when to cross the street, what sitter to trust with your children, which route to take when you're lost, what job offer (the good old days) to choose, what university to look into, how to best negotiate your benefits package and on and on and on.

The title of this post clearly gave me away. There is a time to judge and there is a time to not judge. And what many of us have great difficulty with is knowing which of the two to do when. Take for example hearing criticism (call it the truth or not). As Jerry Hirshberg, founder and retired president of Nissan Design International in California stated: "Even people who don't mind telling the truth have mixed feelings (at best) about hearing the truth. It's like a chemical reaction: Your face goes red, your temperature rises, you want to strike back. Those are signs of the two D's: defending and debating. Try to fight back with the two L's: listening and learning."

The best way to shut down communication and stifle honest feedback is to punish people who speak up candidly. To snap at them, to quiet them, to publicly ignore input, and to dismiss their ideas by judging them prematurely as impossible, not in line with company policy, too difficult / expensive / out of the ordinary or whatever the judgment is. This quick judging instills fear, demoralization, and apathy at best, and rebellion and couter-productive attitudes and practices at worst.

My suggestion: postpone judgment (excluding crisis situations, of course), listen and learn, inquire by asking questions, see the value of differences and variety, and give people and ideas a chance before you prematurely judge them into the world of the 'weird, the unwanted, and the impossible'.

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