How CEOs conquer a judgmental mindset
CEOs deal with judgmental people all the time — and sometimes, the CEO is the one with a judgmental mindset. We all have our moments. I frequently work with leaders who find themselves in conflict with other leaders or their teams. When this conflict emanates from a place of judgment, rarely does it serve anyone well.
I recently worked with a primarily absentee owner/CEO who was irate when he learned that his team didn’t consult him first before beginning the search to replace a key employee who resigned. His team owned the space and took reasonable action to address a problem, which is exactly what you should want your team to do. He saw the lack of consultation as disrespect. His own judgment got in the way.
Conflict itself is not bad. It is how we handle or mediate the conflict that will ultimately build or undermine our team unity and culture.
What does it mean to be a judgmental person?
Here are some signs you have crossed the line into unhealthy judgment:
- You are emotionally engaged negatively — think anger, disgust, or extreme frustration
- You are using absolutes, like “always” and “never” when describing the other person
- You are making conclusions about another person’s character; they are lazy, dishonest or a thief
There is a well-studied concept called the fundamental attribution error. This concept says that people tend to blame the shortcomings of others on some character flaw. When it comes to others, we tend to believe their behavior is a product of their laziness, dishonesty or intrinsic flaw.
However, when we assess our own lack of performance, it is not because of a character flaw but because of overwhelming external circumstances. It isn’t our fault; anyone else would have done the same thing given the circumstances.
Judging others is rarely helpful. People do what they do for a good reason, but remember, it is for their reasons, not yours. We, as humans, are in no position to judge or condemn others. We still address the behavior but can do so without judgment.
How to overcome harmful judgments and have a productive conversation
Unhealthy judgment will not help the situation. It will only serve to harm yourself and your team. I encourage you to have a conversation with the other person using these three DRYVE foundational principles:
1. Mutual respect
Suspend all judgment about motives. See people as smart, capable and motivated, and treat them accordingly. Give people what they want most in life — dignity, self-worth and respect. When you treat people with respect, they can’t help but reciprocate that same mutual respect back to you.
2. Shared purpose
What do we want to accomplish together that we can’t do alone? Humans are herd animals. We desperately need each other to survive and thrive. When we co-create solutions with another person, we create natural buy-in and ownership. Instead of looking out just for our own interests, it allows us to focus on our future together, which is almost always bigger and better than anything I could do on my own.
3. Meaningful dialogue
Have a two-way conversation with open sharing of insights and perspectives. Don Harkey, a former partner of mine, used to say, “communication is the cure for imperfection.” Take the pressure off yourself and others. You don’t have to be right; you just need to have the conversation. Ask questions and approach the conversation with curiosity. If you are committed to mutual respect and honestly talk about your shared purpose, you will figure it out.
This approach will more quickly get to the heart of the matter and determine if you and the other person have real and substantive issues. More often than not, you will find you don’t. These types of healthy cultural conversations build trust and provide essential clarity for everyone.
To maintain the best conflict-resolution culture, remember to apply these three principles instead of emotionally charged, personal judgments.
[>>Read more about emotional intelligence]
Encourage your managers to practice non-judgmental leadership
Harmful judgment can creep in and become part of your culture. As the chief executive, you certainly need to set the example, but it is more significant than just you.
Judgmental cultures are blame cultures. If the first question out of your manager’s mouth is something like “who did this” or “who’s fault is it,” you probably have a blame culture. Blaming someone, anyone takes the focus off of genuine problem-solving. Focusing on the perceived failure of a person rarely does little to address the real issue. Healthy cultures focus on proactive problem solving, not assigning blame.
Most people already know if they have dropped the ball. Teach your managers to ask great growth-oriented coaching questions rather than assigning fault. Questions like “What would you do differently next time?” or “What would success in this area look like in the future?” engage employees’ minds and help to create a better future for the employees and the company.
Beyond the office — how to have non-judgmental discussions with your partner
Oh yay! That tension you feel at home is also probably there because of unhealthy judgment. Because our guard is down when we are at home, it is so easy to slip into a mindset of negative judgment. If a judgmental approach doesn’t serve us well at work, know it has multiplied negative repercussions at home. And yes, since your partner is human, the same concepts we discussed above will work at home. Peace at both work and home is hard to beat.
Conquer unhealthy culture to capture peace at work and home
Don’t let the negative impact of unhealthy judgment subtly undermine your health and peace of mind. Solid, safe, high-trust relationships are the backbone of any healthy, high-performance culture. Lead yourself and others by moving away from judgment and replacing it with a healthy conversation built on mutual respect, shared purpose and meaningful dialogue.