How I have tried becoming less judgemental

Photo by Pablo Padilla on Unsplash

Before you judge someone, walk a mile in their shoes.

Ever since I was a kid, I have been hearing this quote. But I didn’t start understanding the depth of it until a few years back.

For a large part of my life, I was quick to pass judgements on people who didn’t share the same worldview as me. Cocooned in my own universe, I often used my ‘judgemental’ nature as a defense mechanism while dealing with unfamiliar people.

But over the past few years, I have increasingly come to the realization that a judgemental attitude is detrimental to one’s personal and professional growth. It prevents you from seeing things the way they are and gives you a false sense of confidence.

During the last couple of years, I have taken definitive steps to change my attitude and become a better person. The results have been encouraging and I have noticed a marked change in the way I approach people and situations.

In the subsequent paragraphs, I would like to share the methods that have helped me.

What does being judgemental mean

Before we move into the specifics, let me clarify my understanding of ‘judgemental’.

Oxford dictionary defines ‘judgemental’ asbeing critical of people very quickly, in an unfair way.’

Some of the ways in which this manifests:

  • Frequently labelling someone in college or office, as good/bad, smart/dumb, friendly/unfriendly based on their educational background, their ethnicity, their way of talking or their dressing style.
  • Judging others too harshly for their mistakes or slip-ups.
  • Judging someone solely on the basis of one incident and ignoring all other interactions you have had.
  • Passing judgement on someone on the basis of a social media post.

How I became aware of my ‘judgemental nature’

Before undertaking any journey of transformation, the first step is self-awareness.

Self-awareness coupled with a willingness to change are the essential pre-requisites for change.

You must be willing to admit that there is a problem with your attitude and you need to change. Once you move past this first step, the rest of the journey becomes easy.

For me, this awareness was brought almost a decade ago while I was studying engineering. A close friend casually pointed how I had the tendency of calling everyone “stupid”/“idiot”/ “dumb” after a few conversations with them. At that point I did not take him seriously because I thought he was just trying to put me down. Moreover, I did not see anything wrong in my behaviour.

However, during my post-graduation, another close friend pointed out the same thing again. He said, “Bro, you are so quick in passing judgement on others. You shouldn’t be doing that. Let them live the way they want.” What followed next was a long conversation with him. With specific examples, he pointed out instances where I had displayed this behaviour.

Over the next few weeks, my mind kept on going back to the conversation we had.

I could discern a clear pattern in my behaviour and I felt very bad about it. It made me realize how:

  • My judgemental nature might have prevented so many people from developing a closer friendship with me. (especially people who were not similar to me)
  • I might be appearing to many of my close friends (with whom I used to have unfiltered conversations).

Since then I made it a mission to change myself for the better.

Takeaway

  • Ask yourself this: Do you recall your friend/cousin or significant other ever having pointed out that you are judgemental? If yes, then there is a high chance that they are right.
  • Observe your thoughts: Carefully observe your thoughts/attitude with respect to both your personal relations and professional colleagues. Observe what you think about them when they say or do something that’s unexpected? Also, when they achieve something or fail at something, what are your thoughts about them? Are you dismissive or unkind?

Doing the above two exercises will help you know whether you are judgemental and how severe the problem is.

Consequences of being Judgemental

Even if you discover that you are judgemental, you might ask — So What? What’s the harm in being judgemental? This seems like normal behaviour. My friends/family members do it all the time.

At the surface, it does appear to be harmless vice.

However, in the long run, its these “harmless vices” that hurt you the most. (Since we are unable to notice how these vices silently corrode us from within)

In my observation, being judgemental lead to the following problems:

  1. Makes you a negative person — The more you focus on the negative aspects of others, the more you see the positive energy drain from your own life. After a certain point, negativity, skepticism and pessimism becomes your default reaction to others.
  2. Obstructs your personal development — If you focus too much on other’s flaws, you fail to notice your own shortcomings. (Why waste time pulling others down when we could instead be using that time to pull ourselves up?)
  3. Prevents you from forging long lasting friendships — Sooner or later, you start focusing on the other person’s ‘flaws’. These eventually overshadow all the good things about that person.
  4. Makes you unwilling to try new experiences — When you are continuously judging others and their actions, you will find it difficult to step out of your comfort zone and try something new. (You will be too worried about others judging you)

Habits for becoming less judgemental

In the interest of full disclosure, I want to tell you that becoming less judgemental is not a cakewalk. It takes a lot of time and effort.

Here are the habits which have helped me in this journey:

  • Have one or more close friends who don’t tolerate this judgemental nature of yours — They will make you realize how frequently you indulge in this habit and why its a bad thing. No matter how many articles you read, a close friend helping you change is a much stronger driving force. (I will forever be grateful to my friends who called me out on this)
  • Start appreciating the good in others — A good antidote to excessive criticism is genuine appreciation. A crucial learning for me is that when you search for the good, you tend to find it in abundance. Especially at the workplace, I have made it a point to publicly praise my colleagues whenever they do something good. It has helped bring a tectonic shift in my attitude. (You can read more about the approach here)
  • Have better things to discuss with your friends & family — There is a famous saying by Eleanor Roosevelt — Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people. It hits the nail on the head. Many of our conversations are centered around criticizing others. Occasional ranting is fine, but if you do it all the time, it implies that the problem lies somewhere else. (Whenever I notice a discussion moving towards unsubstantiated criticism of someone, I try to change the topic or completely disconnect from the discussion.)
  • Have a diverse circle of friends — I have made it my life’s mission to interact and spend time with people who are very different from me in terms of background and habits. The more I interact with them, the more I realize how foolish our pre-conceived notions about others are. (Caution: You don’t need to change your habits/worldview just for the sake of fitting in.)
  • Ask your close friends to hold you accountable — When you tell others that you are trying to change, it creates a strong incentive for you to change. (Nobody likes to lose face in front of their loved ones by showing the same attitude which they want to change)
  • Keep your mind occupied with bigger and better things — It is said that “An empty mind is a devil’s workshop.” I have noticed that in my free time, my tendency to judge other’s amplifies. So, the trick is to keep yourself occupied with better things in your free time. (You could either try to focus on improving yourself professionally. For example, by doing online courses, teaching others or taking up more responsibilities at work. Or you could take up new hobbies outside of work. I have recently tried my hand at cooking, spoken poetry and photography . I have found that when I start learning a new skill, all my my free time is spent on thinking how to get better at it rather than obsessing about people)

Most important habit: Stop Indulging your “judgemental self”

Even after all of the above, you might find yourself unexpectedly slipping into your older “judgemental ways” and judging someone harshly without any reason. In such situations, the best course of action is to not indulge yourself further.

As soon as you become aware of your thoughts, gently try to nudge your mind away from those thoughts. I usually do one of the following actions in such situations: chant the God’s name or recall the person’s good nature or distract myself with small talk. Depending on the situation, you may follow whatever approach works best for you. But remember: Don’t indulge your mind when it is at its judgemental best.

Conclusion

Renee Fleming once said, “Everybody’s a work in progress”.

I am a strong believer in this quote. In today’s dynamic world, all of us have to continuously adapt and evolve.

A positive change within us not only makes us happier but also helps spread happiness in the lives of people who are close to us.

So, what are you waiting for?

It’s time to stop judging and start understanding.

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Vikram Goyal

Currently PM@Airmeet — building a kick-ass product for conducting remote events and conferences.