The Judging Zone
I forgive myself for judging myself for judging…
This is something I learned a couple of years ago, as I co-facilitated a Learning Lab for a group of conscious leaders. As part of that same workshop, we had a Dialogue around what it means to notice judgments and how we can cultivate deeper awareness of the Judging Zone.
As human beings, it is a natural process to judge. From a biological perspective, our brain is designed to protect us. In this, it will automatically judge whether something is potentially good, bad, harmful, or even fatal to us.
From a psychological perspective, our brains are designed to make automatic judgements about other people’s behaviors “so that we can move through the world without spending too much time or energy on understanding everything we see.” [Psychology Today, May 11, 2018]
Being judgmental is therefore an essential survival trait: Is it safe to cross the street? Is it okay to touch the stovetop? Is that person trustworthy? Do I feel secure in accepting this job offer?
If judging is a natural process and key to our survival, why do we pigeon-hole judging as bad? Why do we need awareness of the Judging Zone?
In David Bohm’s book, On Dialogue, he talks about the challenges of bringing groups of people together—legislators, business-people, religious groups—any group, really. “Whenever people meet for Dialogue…we will likely find that each one of us will have different opinions and assumptions.” In these differences, tensions often arise, and temperatures go up, contributing toward ineffectiveness and inefficiency.
“The top executives may all have different opinions, hence they can’t get together. So, the company doesn’t work efficiently; it starts to lose money and goes under.” - David Bohm
Being a scientist himself, Bohm goes on to state that scientists can also get into this very same situation. “Each one may hold to a different view of the truth, so they can’t get together. Or they may have different self-interests. A scientist who is working on a company that produces pollution may have a certain self-interest in proving that the pollution is not dangerous. And somebody else might have self-interest in proving that it is dangerous. And perhaps then somewhere there is an unbiased scientist who tries to judge it all.”
Science is supposed to be dedicated to truth and fact. Religion is supposed to be dedicated to another kind of truth and to love. But people’s self-interest, assumptions and judgments “take over…something is happening, which is that assumptions and opinions are like computer programs in people’s minds. Those [firmly embedded] programs take over against the best of intentions—they produce their own intentions.”
And this is why deeper awareness of the Judging Zone is necessary. Being mindful of our natural process to judge is the key to changing the way we react to others’ behaviors, setting the stage not only for communication effectiveness in the workplace (see my prior blog post), but toward more conscious communication overall.
So, if judgment and unconscious bias (those firmly embedded “programs” Bohm refers to in his book) is natural within the human system and deeper awareness of the Judging Zone necessary, what’s next?
Attention to Intention.
Cultivating deeper awareness of when we are in the Judging Zone helps us to also understand our intention—the purpose underlying those judgments. It is here that I would like to introduce discernment.
Judgement and discernment: What’s the difference and why does it matter?
We are surrounded by judgments every single day within ourselves and from others. This is partly because we live in a culture that has strong attachments to categorizing and comparing—especially when it comes to business.
It’s far too easy then to fall into criticism of people, places and things that are different from you. It is because of this that we often blame and even condemn people and situations we dislike or people with whom we disagree. In defending your own ideas and truths to be correct comes with the automatic polarity that my ideas and truths are incorrect. This is where defending divides. And this is also where judgment gets its bad wrap, hence the “Judging Zone.”
Judgment polarizes; and in that polarization, anger and division are created. Judgement is therefore fragmented because it thrives on right/wrong; mine/yours; good/bad; fun/boring; beautiful/ugly.
For managers and those in leadership positions, decision-making is a vital skill. And with decision-making comes a need to distinguish people, places, and things. Deeper awareness of the Judging Zone could suggest to some that we should not judge. On top of that, human beings are wired to judge. So, as a more conscious businessperson, if I am not supposed to judge, but need make effective decisions and decisions require me to distinguish between…what am I to do?
Discernment may seem like judgment; but the difference between these two approaches is significant.
To judge is to use a reactive approach, condemning others for their visible problems, failing to recognize that their own attitudes stem from root problems which they themselves have not yet overcome. The underpinning intention to judgment comes from scarcity.
To discern is to use a more conscious approach, assuming positive intent, and through that lens, thoroughly examining oneself before evaluating the views and actions of others. The underpinning intention to discernment comes from abundance.
Here are some ways you might consider each approach:
Understands and connects
Comes with emotion
Comes with sensing
To discover / inquire / interpret
Compassionate / loving
Based in keen understanding, insights, clarity, and awareness of the Judging Zone
Condemns and divides
Comes with emotion
To conclude / prove / determine
Insensitive / fearful
Based in unawareness, outer rigid standards, opinions or social pressures
As I have invited people to consider many times over the years, it’s not our judgments or assumptions or opinions that are the primary issue; it’s the intention that lies beneath them. This is why I believe David Bohm suggested we suspend our opinions, assumptions and judgments— “hanging them out” for ourselves and others to see in their full glory. In suspending, you become more aware. In becoming more aware, you heal and transform.
Dr. Bohm felt Dialogue as a process of healing—a process so powerful that it had the potential to cultivate world peace and exactly why he dedicated the last ten years of his life to this word he labeled with a capital D.
Our awareness of the Judging Zone means that we suspend our judgements, as we consciously try to become less judgmental and more discerning.
Here are some steps to get you there:
“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent” ~Eleanor Roosevelt: Be willing to admit that you have an ideal version of yourself and your world, both of which are YOUR creation. Your judgments of yourself and others are stories about you trying to live up to your ideal standards. We judge others mostly because we feel so much better when we project our flaws and shortcomings onto someone else. Ask yourself: why do you feel the need to judge?
“Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we’re supposed to be and embracing who we are.” ~Brene Brown: Remember that all human beings judge; stop trying to control others’ judgements of you, and practice accepting yourself as you are right now—an imperfect, changing, growing, worthy person. We spend most of our emotional energy trying to become our ideal self because we think that this will prevent us from experiencing judgement and criticism, finally giving us the inner peace we crave.
“A flower does not think to compete with the flower next to it. It just blooms.” ~Zen Shin: Stop comparing yourself to others. We regularly compare ourselves to how others are living their lives to see if we are actually “winning.” This often leaves us with feelings of insecurity and inadequacy. These self-judgments cause a war within our minds. We don’t truly make ourselves feel better by judging others; instead our judgments of others feed our judgements of ourselves. Take time to notice what triggers your judgmental thoughts and then forgive yourself for judging yourself for judging.
“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that don’t work.” ~Thomas Edison: We are a culture of instant gratification and “feeling good.” And this desire to feel good breeds a habit of criticizing ourselves harshly when we perceive ourselves as having failed. Life and business do not always go the way we want them to. The more we can embrace unpredictability, the less judgment we will inflict upon ourselves. When we are less judgmental of ourselves, we have more capacity to accept others, as they are, strengths and shortcomings. First look inside; and then stop and consider the reason for someone else’s behavior.
“Self-compassion is simply giving the same kindness to ourselves that we would give to others.” ~Christopher Germer: Practice self-compassion. Having self-compassion means understanding that being human is to struggle with feelings of inadequacy. Trying to feel better by finding the faults and flaws of others to feel better about ourselves may work momentarily; but it is not a permanent solution. When we practice self-compassion, we feel more at peace within ourselves and can have more compassion for others, rather than finding fault.