How many people have you written off in your life because you thought they were jerks? Think about it. How many people have you completely cut out, determining that they’re a specific way that you want nothing to do with?
This is something I practiced and developed some expertise with as a stressed out corporate executive. If I’m honest with myself, very early in most relationships, I would determine whether someone was worth dealing with. Either they were on my team or not on my team. This was generally based on limited interactions. I’m not proud of it. But it’s true.
How quick are you to judge people in your life? What does it take to set you off?
If you're like I was, it doesn't take much. Research says that most people make a first impression within the first half a second. I would hope that even the most stressed out type-A personalities give people at least one full meeting before writing them off. However, in my experience, us corporate types are also quick to make judgments that tend not to move. In other words, we think we know someone well enough, based on a limited interaction, to put them into a box permanently. That box determines how we deal with them for the rest of infinity. You know the various boxes: jerk, know it all, selfish, arrogant, abrasive, dirt bag, womanizer and the list goes on. And on. And on. We’re good at making lists when we’re judging others.
What if you embraced a more mindful approach to avoid judging others? What if you took a step back from the easy and convenient boxing of people to recognize that people can occur to you in many different ways if you just give them time.
Take a moment to think of the worst person in your life. The person you've put into a very small box, put a lid on it and taped it shut. And then wrote “JERK” in permanent marker nice and big on top of the box.
Now take a piece of paper. Write down that all inclusive moniker: jerk. And under that, write ten other things that that person is. That could include things like parent, teacher, brother or sister, runner, CrossFitter, tech enthusiast, worried, lonely, dealing with grief, funny, clever, smart, chef, well read and many more things.
The point is that none of us are just one thing. We're actually hundreds of things at different points in our day, let alone at different points in our lives. When we’re open to people occurring to us as jerks in one moment but as funny, clever or charming in other moments, then we actually give those moments a chance to appear. And we give ourselves the chance to enjoy the many dozens of ways that these people can occur, if we’re open to it.
This is important for a few reasons:
Many people are judging you in the same way you’re judging them.
You had a bad moment or meeting and they put you in a box. You occur one way to them. At all times. It doesn't feel great to think of yourself in one dimension, let alone with one judgmental adjective.
We rob ourselves of the opportunity to truly get to know people on a deeper level when we put them into boxes.
We actually take away from our own experience when we're not open to each individual in our lives showing up and occurring to us in many different ways. If we don’t give people some leeway to have a bad moment, bad day or bad week, we can’t expect others to do the same for us.
We all change based on circumstance.
Sometimes, we’re not at our best. Sadly, those are the times we end up being judged. Open box. Insert. Close. Label. When we’re at our best, we truly want people to experience the many different ways that we can be. No one is one-dimensional. Human nature is that we want to share the many sides of our personalities. We want people to experience us for all that we are. We want to be valued for the many things that we bring into the world. And it’s a lonely feeling when we know we’re not accepted. I’ve been there too.
Finally, once we draw the lines of judgement we tend to gather support from others (join in on the judgment!) to prove that we’re right and protect our own egos. It's very easy to create an “us versus them” mentality or worse yet, a team judging mentality.
So the next time you want to judge someone and put them into a box, keep a few things in mind:
Everyone is multi dimensional.
We can all show up in one way on one occasion and many other ways on other occasions.
We all have more in common than we realize.
Looking to those commonalities often opens up conversation and acceptance in new ways that are important in modern business.
Putting people in boxes hurts you more than it hurts them.
Modern business requires dynamic relationships. Those relationships have a better chance of flourishing if they make room for forgiveness, acceptance and the flexibility to accept people in the many different ways that they show up. Instead of putting people in boxes, why not start a conversation around what bothers you and how important that individual relationship is to you. That invites a conversation where they can see your human side and you can enjoy theirs as well.
We live in trying times. We all show up in many ways. We all have difficult lives that we're dealing with. And we all deserve an opportunity for others to experience us as diverse and complex. Give yourself and others the opportunity to show up as wonderful, flawed, charming, opinionated and infuriating - that's the joy and beauty of being human.