How To Judge People Thoughtfully
You know when someone’s judging you harshly even when they won’t say it to your face. Their eyes narrow, lips tighten, forehead creases. They usually refrain from shaking their head unless they want to provoke a response. You can sense their disapproval even when someone goes through the trouble of controlling their body language.
As much as we hate when others judge us, whether direct or passive-aggressive, we all engage in the same behavior.
We’re human, and it’s part of our DNA. Avoiding judgment of others would require a herculean effort of self-control and mental discipline that few people in the world possess. Still, even though we have little choice but to participate in this human tradition, with a conscious effort and a few thoughtful techniques, we can judge others in a way that demonstrates empathy, understanding, and acceptance even if we disapprove of their beliefs and life choices.
Most people use heuristics to evaluate people — a mental shortcut to making decisions and judgments when faced with incomplete information.
Here’s how it works.
Let’s suppose you’re walking down the street of a big city. It’s nighttime, and a woman dressed in a business suit speaking on the phone zooms past you. Would you judge her as a threat? Probably not. But now, let’s pretend you’re walking past an adult male wearing a ski mask in the middle of summer. Would you judge him as a threat?
In both cases, we had no information to evaluate other than outward appearance. You’d probably be right in pegging the guy in a ski mask as a potential threat. But it’s also possible he wore the ski mask because he has a skin condition, and it’s also conceivable the woman in the business suit is a secret assassin.
Heuristics come in handy when we lack other information to evaluate, but they can lead to lazy thinking when we refrain from seeking out additional information by engaging in conversation or doing research when it’s practical.
When we make that extra effort, we allow ourselves to evaluate people thoughtfully while also updating our heuristics with new information when our mental shortcuts yield faulty conclusions.