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In more primitive times, evaluating or judging people and environmental conditions was a survival mechanism. In those cases, it was clearly a strength. Judgments had to be made quickly because one’s life was at stake. In some current situations, it might still be the case. However, like any other strength, it becomes a weakness when it is overused.

A judging mindset is overly critical or analytical. Always evaluating things as – black or white, good or bad, better or worse can result in an emotional and behavioral downward spiral. Life is more nuanced than that and requires a more broad-minded approach. Unfortunately, negative evaluation of self and others is common in our culture. However, with a willingness to consider alternative ways of viewing people and events, it’s possible to shift thought patterns in a more positive and rational direction, by cultivating more curiosity, rather than judgment.

A curious mind offers many benefits. For example, it imparts clarity by providing a more balanced perspective. Judging yourself or others unfavorably, in other words, criticizing, tends to leave out some important details.

According to Stephen Covey, “We see the world, not as it is, but as we are—or as we are conditioned to see it”, so It’s hard to be nonjudgmental all the time. We automatically make judgments about people from the minute we first see or meet them based on appearance, behavior, and what they say. And that’s okay. Nonjudgmental listening isn’t about avoiding those judgments – it’s about making sure that you don’t express those negative judgments because that can get in the way of helping someone who needs to be heard.

It’s important to make sure you are in the right frame of mind to talk and listen to colleagues, family, and friends without being judgmental. Reflect on your state of mind to ensure you are open and ready to actively listen to perspectives that might differ from those you hold. Active listening is critical that is the ability to pause, be emotionally present, and focused on what others convey. Respecting the person’s feelings, personal values, and experiences is valid, even if they are different from your own or you disagree with them. It requires taking time to imagine yourself in the other person’s place which can help you be more genuine, empathic, and open to nuanced points of view.

See the More Curiosity, Less Judgment exercise below to determine how to frame situations differently. (Source: Psychology Tools, More Curiosity Less Judgment – Kin Pratt, June 25, 2015)

Example 1

Judgmental Thought: I’m not smart enough to do well on that exam.

Thoughts of Curiosity: Let’s see what happens when I take the test. I wonder what I’ll learn from preparing for this exam. When do I feel most confident in my thinking? Maybe it would be good to talk to a friend about how they’ve had success with big exams?

Example 2

Judgmental Thought: He/She is just a bad person for doing that.

Thoughts of Curiosity: I wonder why he/she did that? Was that the first time it happened or one of many? Have I ever acted that way? What circumstances would lead someone to act like that?