How are your words being judged, really?

Photo by jj-jordan on Unsplash

I tend to be literal. Lately, that isn’t working for me. It’s the variants of the would “judge”, that has me particularly intrigued.

Do you find the word “judging” to have negative connotations? Letting a person’s words be taken out of context to attempt to “label” or “judge their character” as one thing or another. It is a hyper attention to the need to judge as good or bad. Something is defiantly missing in our awakening, or popular known as being “woke”.

For example, it’s as if you can add the following judgement statements when interpreting a person’s past or present statements, “are you good or bad as a person based your words”,” how am I to interpret your statement as it relates to my… [fill in the blank]”, and similar statements. Sounds extreme, yet I suspect this black and white approach is becoming our norm.

Isn’t judgement fundamental to being who we are as discerning adults?

As a coach, I often say “this is not a place of judgement” when my clients are speaking to me about their challenges and concern about what I think of them. I perceive a sensitivity that I will jump to a conclusion about their character due to a single statement. I find my words, to not judge, don’t really capture what I mean. My words are literally failing me.

I began to look for the definitions and alternatives:

  • Judging – forming an opinion or conclusion about

  • Discerning – showing good judgement

  • Determining - to conclude or ascertain, as after reasoning, observation, etc.

No wonder we find it difficult to use words appropriately in today’s hyper sensitivity to the meaning behind a word or words. What is possible when we use our words impeccably?

What was revealed in my own reflection is that without context words do not always mean the same thing upon interpretation (or hearing). And how much is the meaning based on opinion rather than on same basis of evidence. Even within a context, opinion reduces the chance two people are hearing and defining the words with the same meaning. This opens the door to judging others purely on opinion, which often leads to negative judgement. Our nature is to lean towards the negative to avoid harm of any type.

It becomes even more important when a word is in the popular lexicon to reflect shifts in our culture. Judging is politically charged, currently. Many, including myself, want to be seen for who we are and not “prematurely judged” based on expectations and/or opinions. And there it is, “prematurely” qualifies a single word from being negative to being neutral. It is not being judged in itself, rather unfairly being judged.

The last few years public figures must walk on water for fear of misinterpretation of their words. New political candidates are apologizing for using common phrases that may be interpreted as negative. Apologizing for words they used when they were younger and likely unaware of the future position which would thrust them into a spot light. There is no opportunity to put these words into context prior to being judged.

How do we slow down the judging to allow more context for making good judgement?

There is a different approach we can take. Separate our opinion and the emotional charge that may emerge. Take an extra moment and find the context. With my clients, this is crucial to building a common understanding.

What I mean to convey to my client, is that I am judging what they are saying to me, not through my own filters (or opinions), rather through their filters to understand their meaning. In fact, I am not judging the person, rather discerning (which is a judgement) the person’s relationship to their situation. This results in illumination of their meaning, which informs new judgement of their situation opening new possibilities for my client. Ultimately my judgement only deepens my curiosity for my client exploration of their judgement of self and others. My part was to bring forth their new judgement which my client makes, not me.

This is relatively unique to coaching. It is natural to use our own experience, opinion and expectation, when making a judgement. Judgement is neutral. It is only our own context and meaning that determine a positive or negative association to words. What becomes possible when we open ourselves to another’s context and meaning?

“Good” judgement is prized as a positive trait. Having good judgement helps us to make better decisions. What determines good or bad in judgement? I propose one factor is our own agility of character to look beyond the surface, by seeing more than our own opinion, which creates the possibility to judge fairly.

I wonder, what would it take for you to use a coaching filter in judging a situation or your relationship to a situation? What could be the impact on those around you by shifting the way you judge?

Here are some simple ideas to consider. The application is up to you to use “good” judgement for the situation.

  • Be aware that the words you use may not have the same meaning for others. Consider being curious about their interpretation of what you say. For example, what are you taking away from this conversation?

  • Be aware of your own expectations for a situation. Are you using words to convey more meaning based on a judgement you have already made? For example, why are you not hearing what I am trying to tell you?

  • Be aware of the how the context drives your judgement. Consider what determined your judgement; is it opinion, belief or evidenced based? How might another’s context change your judgement?