Monday, January 17, 2011

Breaking Down Walls of Judgment

Over the past several weeks, I've had the productive pleasure of participating in Keith Ferrazzi's Relationship Master's Academy.  If Keith's name sounds familiar to you here, you may remember that I made a complete arse out of myself the first time I met him.  Water under the bridge now of course... though I may experience a Pavlovian cringe the next time I see a plate of bananas foster. 

In any case, I've been talking a whole lot about relationships lately.  What makes them strong?  What makes them difficult?  How do we build more and better relationships?  What are the secrets to proper care and feeding of a good network?  And so on.

It's convenient timing for such exploration as I am also working on the book proposal for My Life Does Not Make Your Butt Look Big (working title).  

One consistent observation is that critical judgment of others is not only extremely common, but can make a big difference in our ability to form and nurture relationships.

I'm not just talking about the, "Oh. Em. Gee.  Did you see what she was, like, wearing?!" kind of judgment.

We project our opinions onto others in so many ways, both personally and professionally.  Often, these experiences do not have happy endings.

For example, my very first job was as a commissioned sales associate at a clothing store in Suburbia, USA.   I was only 16 years old and didn't even have my driver's license yet.  (Picture me riding four miles each way on an old five-speed with my Farrah Fawcett hair and Payless platforms.)

To make a long story short, I learned a valuable lesson when I ignored an unkempt customer who ended up spending $350 with another clerk who was more attentive and less judgmental.

The story was more poignant before they made Pretty Woman.  But you get the idea.

In the 25 years since my mall days, I've learned a few additional lessons with similar themes about the dynamics of relationships and judgment:

1. Solutions can come from the most unexpected places.  No matter how high we think our position, it pays to listen to everyone and anyone willing to come forth with their ideas about how to make things better. 

2. When times get tough, our own fear of failure can back us into the corner and make us defensive or angry.  (Personally, I tend to express this as impatience.)   While the tendency is to put up those protective walls, this is the time when we need to be more open to and accepting of others' insight, help and support.   Put the claws away. 

3. Everyone has "customer service" in their job description, whether those customers are external clients or co-workers or family and friends.  As tempting as it may be to focus on how annoying, stupid, random or arrogant (etc) some of those people may seem, we hold our own happiness and success hostage by indulging in judgment.  Before reacting, I find it helpful to take a breath and ask myself, "What am I trying to accomplish with this interaction and what can I do to be most helpful towards that outcome?"

4. When we peel the paint off those walls of judgment, we will typically find a layer of insecurity and/or fear underneath.  When I was a child, my mom told me that the kids who made fun of me only did it to feel better about themselves.  I was a weird kid and I probably would have made fun of me too.  But here's the truth:  judging others is more a reflection of our own defects and usually makes us feel worse, not better.   In accepting, celebrating and investing positive energy in others, we generate more confidence in ourselves.

5. One of the many things I learned in the halls of AA with my first husband was, "Take your own inventory."   (See also: When you point a finger at someone else, there are three pointing back at you.)  Continuing with the theme that one side of the wall of judgment is reflective, often those qualities which bother us most in others, are those which we possess ourselves.   Yet, while it's helpful to pay attention to those negative triggers, I personally feel that self-analysis is only truly helpful when it includes the good stuff too.   In accepting, celebrating and investing positive energy in ourselves, we generate more confidence in others. 

Let's all look for opportunities to break down those walls and make more room to grow as individuals as well as in our relationships with those around us.

Increased confidence brings increased capacity.


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Colleen Newvine Tebeau said...

Charlene, I like so much about this post, but especially point #2, as that's something I'm really working on right now -- I think it was Deepak Chopra who said there are only two motives in life, love and fear?
I'm trying not to let fear chase me into a corner and instead to let love bring me bravery, confidence and abundance, or at least the ability to overcome whatever stumbles or failure my fears think might be lurking.

Sarah said...

I once knew a person who was a master of providing negative judgment, and you're right--he did it to make himself feel better. That was a painful lesson. This is not to say I'm perfect, of course. It's a difficult thing to do particularly for me, as I grew up in an extremely jugemental environment.

Kim said...

I love what you pointed out in point #1. I am amazed at what I learn from the most unusual people and situations if I stay really open minded and centered.

Of course, it takes massive amounts of yoga and meditation to do this. But it works. :)

This was a great read. And congrats on your book. I am working on one too. Have 5 chapters out of 10 completed. It has to be off my plate this year. Let's keep each other motivated.


Charlene said...

Colleen - I love that you mention "abundance." It's something I have to focus on as well. And yes, you CAN overcome those fears. Love is a great way to do it!

Sarah - I still have a lot of that judgment around me but I am so much better at not letting it define me and instead let it be an opportunity for me to grow and learn. And in some cases, simply detach and define my own reality. (And sometimes just laugh.)

Kim - Absolutely, would love to have mutual support and hear more about your book! Email me anytime at

Audra said...

What a great post. I was a weird kid who was tormented relentlessly until I got to college. In my mid-thirties, I still find myself licking those very old wounds. As I have been getting to know some of my classmates through blogs and facebook, I see how their judgement and ridicule stemmed from their own wounds.

Adriana Iris said...

TY... Lovely post...and thanks for the visit...

Charlene said...

Thanks Audra! I sometimes still get the feeling that I am the "weird one" in the room but I've decided that weird is the new beautiful :-)

Adriana - thanks for stopping by!

SubtleSouthernSnapshots said...

I love the last statement you made!

Thanks for stopping by.
Now following you.

Not Everyone's Mama said...

I love this post! I know when it comes to my husband, people have made snide remarks because he is a waiter, without knowing that the reason he stays in the restaurant business is because he wants to open his own. We're so close to it now but people still look down on that.

Empower said...

This is very similar to my post just last night. I struggle with people all around me who are negative and jugemental. Makes me mad!! Its so second nature to pick up the phone and say,"you know what?" Thank God of my fieance the most humble man i know will say to always ask yourself "Am i making things better or worse?" well, if i gave in then i would be makeing them worse. "Wosha!" Down girl! Down!

Elena said...

Hi! I'm your newest follower and I really like this post. I try to take my own inventory constantly. I feel that being self-aware is extremely important in the realm of health relationships.
I look forward to future posts :)

Stacey Donaldson said...

I love this post...a lot. I think we all need to take a look in the mirror (every single day). Like Elena said being "self-aware" is important!

I recently won The Stylish Blogger Award and now we are passing it onto you. Congratulations! Find out the award details here:

Lara said...

Hi there, I am new to your blog and to blogging generally, I found this post really interesting. As a trainer we are taught quite a lot about judging people and making assumptions. As human beings it is an inherent part of us to make snap judgements about people and situations, it is part of our self preservations techniques. So it is important to not feel bad when you do make a snap judgement about a person or a situation, the really important thing is to perhaps file it at the back of your mind and open your mind to the situation or person, sometimes your initial judgement will be correct, often it will be wrong and by not being open minded you will be the one to miss out on wonderful life experiences or great relationships or just interactions with interesting people. Thats just what I have learned anyway and I thought I would add it into the mix. Thanks.

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