How to recognize you’re being a judgmental jerk (and what to do about it)

Do you use words like: better than, right, wrong, lazy, or unambitious to describe your coworkers or managers? If so, you may be hurting your career progress.

How to recognize you’re being a judgmental jerk (and what to do about it)
[Photo: Mathieu Stern/Unsplash]

Are you a judgmental person?


Whether you are known as the resident Judge Judy or consider yourself to be a tolerant person, being judgmental is a behavior that we have all engaged in at some point or another. But there’s a difference between being judgmental and being opinionated, making observations, or being biased.

Judgmental behavior typically involves appraising something like a situation, person, or action with a critical attitude. A person often does this in a condemning and fault-finding way using their subjective (likely moralistic) point of view and set of values.

This can affect your work in a negative way, likely impacting team and interpersonal dynamics. For instance, you may find yourself frequently assigning values to your colleagues using words such as: better than, right, wrong, lazy, or unambitious. There are consequences to taking this hypercritical approach to others who don’t meet your standards.

You risk being insular

Being judgmental often comes with giving your point of view supremacy over the values and views of others. The risk of being this narrow-minded could result in being less likely to see other colleagues’ perspectives as being relevant or important. Thinking that your way is the only way could also hinder your ability to gain potentially great insights or learnings from those operating outside your value system. Consequently, you may be impacting your own productivity, learning, and growth by not allowing yourself the exposure to a diversity of opinions, fresh ideas, and input from other team members and colleagues.

You jump to conclusions

Passing judgment often implies making a decision before considering all the facts. This may also impact your willingness to look at information objectively or make an attempt to comprehend the full picture. Say, for example, you consider yourself to be very ambitious. You regularly work late, put your hand up for extra projects, and constantly add new qualifications to your repertoire. Then you may find yourself labeling a colleague who appears to be the opposite of you as “unambitious” because she always knocks off on time, has not studied anything since her first degree, and never seems keen to take on extra work. Based on your personal standards of ambition anyone falling outside this is not serious about their career aspirations. Your partial view of your colleague leads you to jump to a conclusion about her when it may turn out that she is a single mom who also takes care of a frail elderly parent who at this point in her career is more focused on achieving a balance between work and personal commitments rather than career progress.

You can’t see beyond win or lose

Judgmental people have a tendency to evaluate things as either right or wrong, black or white. This blanket assessment, aligned with the first two points, makes them paint things with one brush instead of appreciating that some things are multifaceted. An example is a team member proposing an idea that may not resonate with you because you do not believe their approach has the level of detail that would give you comfort. Because it doesn’t fit your subjective views of success, you take a binary yes-or-no, win-or-lose approach. Making conclusive judgments—particularly about people, behaviors, or options without considering gray areas, may limit your perceptions and keep you from taking a win-win approach that has validity and value.


Three things you can do to avoid being judgmental

Judgmental people often make their colleagues feel shame and indignity about their choices, values, approach to work, or their general behavior. This may result in people not wanting to be around you or to build a relationship with you that fosters teamwork and workplace dynamics. To reverse this pattern, try these three strategies:

Avoid loaded words

If you find yourself classifying someone’s behavior, actions, or values using hypercritical words like lazy, dishonest, or stupid, take a step back and ask yourself, “Is my perception of this situation based on a full view of the picture?” Or, “Am I imposing my own values here and what alternate explanation is there for this behavior?” For example, if a colleague has responded to your emails late on a few occasions, before categorizing them as inefficient, make sure you’ve taken the time to understand what other factors could contribute to this. They could be managing two work inboxes or they are currently covering for a colleague who is on maternity leave and are doing two jobs. Make the effort to gather more information before slapping someone with a label.

Be empathetic

Putting yourself in someone’s shoes is a great remedy for judgmental behavior. It is quite common to feel a sense of superiority when looking from the outside: “If that was me, I would have made a better decision.” Or, “I would never have allowed this project to fall behind.” It may be that faced with the same circumstances, you would have done exactly what you are judging someone else for doing. If you put yourself in that person’s situation and experience what they experienced, you may reevaluate your approach.

Learn to separate the person from the action

If a person behaves in a manner that is questionable or that you disapprove of, the tendency is to think it relates to a personality flaw rather than the situation. This so-called fundamental attribution error is the propensity for people to overemphasize personal characteristics and ignore situational factors when they’re judging others’ behavior. You may label someone as unprofessional because they arrive late for a meeting they are chairing when perhaps one of their staff members had an emergency that morning. Their late arrival was situational and not part of their habits. Before generalizing, take a minute to consider the situational factors that might have played a role.

Judgmental behavior doesn’t only affect those who are judged. When you place supremacy on your value system, you can hinder your own progress and productivity.

Phiona Martin is a registered organizational psychologist and career coach. She is a content creator, speaker, and writer and spends her time formulating career development strategies for both corporates and individuals. Connect with her on Twitter or through her career advice blog.