Being critical is an art form. Unfortunately, I’m not speaking of the type of critical that has to do with thought or strategy. The reference is to the criticism that we, as a people, are so easily drawn to. It’s not a new phenomenon. And with social media readily available, we have sat back and judged what’s around us through a lens of self until it’s become, well, an art form.
Judgment is a necessary function of our lives. As a father of three, I want my children to discern who they hang out with, what kinds of activities they spend time on and what future they want. That must have a level of judgment to it. “Don’t judge” is a phrase that’s held in high regard by some, but I don’t think the phrase is a universally applicable command. I have taught my kids to judge, and I stand by it.
But, what about the ease of criticism that plagues us? Is that the type of universal judgment that we should encourage?
In the world of human resources, we are often the ones who to broker relationships. We deal in understanding, communication and reconciliation to achieve a goal. We massage (no real touching, please!), we confront, we mediate. Consideration is one of our tools in these endeavors. We ask an individual to consider the perspective of the business or of the leaders of the business. We ask if it’s possible that what an individual sees isn’t all there is to know. And we’re right to do so.
My family is obsessed with The Bachelor/Bachelorette franchise. They plan their schedules to ensure that Monday nights are protected. And when they sit together to watch, they enjoy the process of someone finding a “life-long” mate. And then Dad joins them on occasion. I’m usually allowed to sit for about 10 minutes before the excommunication proceedings begin. I judge everything happening on screen. I mock some of the participants. I roll my eyes. I feign puking. I am snarking about it all. And then I am removed from the premises.
Honestly, I have a large group of people who would support me in my criticalness. I mean, how many couples work out from this show? I have metrics, people! But what I know I do is move from judging the premise of the show to the judging the participants. It’s so easy to segue into. I don’t have to think about it much. It’s a gift, I know.
Haven’t you had to talk people off the ledge? They come to you with a situation that evolves into rumor and baseless accusation towards another. You jump in to say, “Wait, how do you know that?” They may answer with things like, “Well, what else could it be?” “That’s what I have heard” or “Don’t you remember what happened three years ago?” You affirm that the person might be stringing a line of thought together that is missing some information. I know that I have had to ask employees, “Well, tell me what the President said to you when you discussed this.” Often, the employee looks at me puzzled and responds, “We didn’t discuss this.” And my point gets made and I get to spend a few minutes planning out a better approach to the frustration and to move away from judgment of the person.
Think about the last few situations that you’ve been through at work. How quickly did you move from judging the situation to judging a person? The situation may require you to offer judgment to a person, in the form of some discipline surrounding the behavior. That’s not what I mean. Think about the characterization that might be slipping into your mind. Consider the bias it might give you towards the situation. Think about the dots you are choosing to connect based upon assumption, annoyance or attitude. Are you judging in the wrong way?
Sitting with CEOs, I often hear how certain members of their organization cannot get beyond a characterization regarding that leader. One CEO shared that he had absolutely messed up in an approach to a business relationship about 10 years ago and the HR Director, who had been there for more than the past 10 years, is still critical towards him. She won’t let him forget or consider that he’s grown from it. It’s a box and he’s in it.
Do I think that The Bachelor police are coming to get me for my harsh criticism? Nope. That won’t really affect my day-to-day living (other than it being a pleasant way to pass a few minutes). But, when each of us chooses to move into personal judgment and criticism without knowing all the facts or details in real-life situations, we do so to our own as well as the company’s detriment.