“There is generally much to learn before any judgment can be pronounced with certainty on another’s doings.” – Marcus Aurelius
How many times have you wrongly assumed the motive behind someone’s words or actions?
If you are like me, probably more times than you care to count.
Navigating the politics and complex hierarchy of an organization can be very challenging. You depend on others to get things done and to achieve your goals. You have a career you are trying to protect and grow. Outside forces constantly press against your objectives.
And so it is with everyone around you.
When someone acts in a way that appears to put us at a disadvantage or to be in opposition to our goals, the natural response is fear. When fear occurs in our minds, we immediately begin to formulate a story that supports this emotion. The reaction is amplified. Fear turns to anger.
The story escalates from a small misstep to a grand conspiracy.
We begin scanning our mind for any past behaviors that might reinforce the belief we are in danger. We start looking for more reasons to be angry and talking to others who will support our story about the person. Soon we are holding on to a hoard of negative energy that is far greater than the original action deserves.
And we know what happens next…
Sooner or later this instigator pushes our button in some small way and instead of responding at the appropriate level, we lash out with all the negative force that we have been generating over the days, weeks or months and give them what they’ve had coming!
Only, our unsuspecting victim has no idea.
From this point, things either go from bad to worse or you figure out that the vast conspiracy was all a story in your head and spend the next 30 minutes apologizing profusely for the misunderstanding. How did you get it so wrong?
It started the moment you chose reaction instead of reflection.
There truly is much to learn before you pass judgment. The fact is, your brain’s wiring for fight, flight or freeze is a great tool for avoiding a hungry lion but not so great for navigating complex human interactions. You can’t always trust your first impression.
Take a moment to reflect on the situation before you rush to judgment.
What else might be happening?
What else might these actions mean?
How do I know this was even directed at me?
Even if it was, how big is this issue, really?
Is it worth the energy it will consume?
What other options are available?
Ideally, try to find a way to clear the air immediately. Don’t guess at what the person intended. Ask for clarification. Yes, that is hard to do in the moment but it is much less troublesome and risky than all the drama you may create for yourself and others by holding on to your judgment.
Of course, you can also decide to simply let it go.
You never know what the other person might be going through. They are living with their own fears, worries, and perceptions. Sometimes, when you get to know the person behind the action, the story takes a very different path. You might even find this is someone with whom you can build a very beneficial relationship.
The more you understand, the less you have to fear.
Pay attention to your judgment of others at work this week. Try to step back and observe what is happening in your mind. Interrupt the program and switch to reflection. Ask questions like those above to form a better response. Give it a try and see what happens.