If you asked twenty people who know you to describe you, what would they say? Would they say you’re more of a judgmental person or more of an understanding person? It’s an important question because the answer will pretty much predict the quality of your relationships at work and at home.
Fortunately, you’re not stuck with being one or other. You can learn to be more understanding, and as a result, build better relationships.
I’ve found the following skills to be especially helpful.
1. Getting all the facts is key to better relationships.
In other words, don’t jump to conclusions.
I think of one manager who almost lost his best employee by jumping to conclusions. He noticed that one of his employees habitually left five minutes earlier than she was supposed to. At about 4:50 p.m., she started to clear her desk, and at 4:55 p.m. she bolted out the door.
This particular manager hated this behavior. It was unacceptable and on several occasions he had thought of firing her. What restrained him was the fact that on all other accounts she was an excellent employee.
One day, however, the manager’s resentment built to the point where he simply had to confront her. He called her into his office and told her that her early departures had not gone unnoticed. He asked if she had any explanation.
She said, “Yes, I believe I have. I am a widow with three small children. The woman who cares for them during the day must leave at 5:45. If I catch the 5:00 bus, I get home at 5:45. If I don’t get on that bus, the next bus doesn’t leave until 5:45, and that gets me home at 6:30. I can’t leave three small children unattended for 45 minutes. I didn’t want to tell you because I was afraid I would have to leave my job.”
Of course, the manager was no longer incensed or irritated. He moved from a jumped conclusion to a fuller understanding. He promptly made special arrangements for her to leave five minutes early each day and make up the time on special occasions.
In a similar sense, you will seldom be sorry if you get the facts before you take an action. Building better relationships means you should take some time to get the facts. Do your homework.
Then, after you get the facts,
2. Withhold judgment until your comprehension is complete.
The trouble is judgment is easy. It doesn’t take any work. It only takes a split second to judge someone.
Unfortunately, when you quickly judge, you’ll be frequently wrong. I learned that lesson a long time ago.
I was in my early twenties, driving around and around a crowded parking lot on a rainy day. In fact the rain was coming down so hard and so fast that there were several inches of standing water all over the parking lot.
Eventually I parked my car way out in the furthest part of the parking lot. As I headed for the entrance to the shopping mall, I saw a car parked directly in front of the entrance. There was no way to get inside the store without going around the car and through some very deep puddles.
I began to grumble, “How thoughtless can people be? How dare they?” And I headed back towards the parked car to share a few angry, disgusted looks.
Just then I saw a lady struggling along with crutches, her legs in braces. She slowly inched her way to the slippery sidewalk, got to the parked car, fell in, and drove off.
Of course, I immediately felt ashamed of the nasty thoughts about that car and driver I was harboring a few moments before. My anger and irritation were gone. In seconds, everything changed.
But stop. What changed? The situation was still the same. The car was still blocking the sidewalk. I still had to wade through the deep puddles of water. The only thing that had really changed was my comprehension of the situation. I saw the woman and her plight and suddenly I understood.
Comprehension takes more effort and skill than judgment. After all, it takes work to dig in, get the facts, sort them out, and truly comprehend what is going on. But when it comes to building better relationships, the payoffs are enormous!
I outline the process in great detail in my book, The Payoff Principle: Discover the 3 Secrets for Getting What You Want out of Life and Work. Check out the chapters on Connective Communication and Compassionate Listening. They’ll lead to better relationships, almost instantly.
Finally, in your quest to be less judgmental…
3. Never underestimate the value of understanding.
Psychologist Jack Berg says, “The human mind reaches for understanding like a flower for the sun.” In other words, people are yearning for your understanding. It’s a gift you give them.
On the home front, for example, husbands and wives are begging for understanding. Indirectly they’re saying, “I know I’ve been grouchy, but before you tune me out and give me the cold shoulder the next few days, please understand me. I haven’t been feeling too good lately. You know about my headaches. I’m worried about our bills. I’m overwhelmed by all the work I’ve got to do. And quite honestly, the kids are getting on my nerves. So, please, before you get too exasperated with me, try to understand me.”
I wonder how many homes are broken because the need for understanding is never satisfied. And I wonder how much needless stress we suffer because we jump to conclusions instead of offering understanding.
In the workplace, the same thing is true. Deep down, the employee may be saying, “I know I don’t always perform the way I should. And I know I do too much griping in the lunchroom. But before you write me off as a no-good employee, please try to understand me. I’ve been distracted by some problems at home and it’s been hard for me to concentrate on work. But I really want to grow professionally. I want to move up in this company. It’s just that I’ve been in the same job for so long and that job uses so few of my talents. Please understand me.”
I wonder how many mediocre employees could become great employees if the boss just understood them. I wonder how much untapped potential lies dormant in employees because the boss jumped to the wrong conclusion about those people. I’ll bet a lot. A whole lot.
Better relationships can be built. They don’t have to be left to chance. And you can start the process by increasing your understanding factor.
Final Thought: When you jump to conclusions, you’re going to trip up.