Mastering Nonjudgmental Communication

Jul 28, 2016 | The ONE Thing | 0 comments


While you may not realize it, you’re probably judging this sentence as you read it. (And the website you are reading it on too.) But that’s okay, as humans we have an innate urge to judge our surroundings, other individuals and the scenarios we’re in at the time.

It’s a natural inclination because our survival used to heavily rely on how well we could judge others and situations. Today, however,most of the judgments we make are on a more personal level rather than deciding if our lives are at stake.

This was highlighted in a relatively recent article by The Atlantic that looked at a number of surveys taken over the last few decades, pointing out that Americans are very opinionated about how others act and behave. Depending on the topic at hand, some individuals judge others more negatively for things they themselves do. For a large segment of the population the term “live and let live” doesn’t often apply.

Judgment certainly has its place. But judgmental communication is typically more harmful than beneficial when it comes to the workplace, especially if people are working on creative endeavors. It can quickly put people on edge, make a person feel insulted or misunderstood, cause people to become defensive and stifle creativity for fear of being judged harshly.

If your office or home atmosphere is more opinionated than productive it may be time to begin emphasizing the importance of non-judgmental communication.


Changing Judgmental Communication Starts With How We Think

Judgment is not discernment, though they are often confused. Discernment is taking in the reality and facts of a situation. Judgment is a layer we add on top of that based on personal opinions and how we think things should be.And these personal feelings can get in the way of objectivity.

When we’re judging we typically take a “yes” or “no” and add in our own beliefs of whether something is “good” or “bad” to the mindset. We commonly see things in black and white rather than in shades of grey. We don’t focus on how and why things are the way they are.

There are two key characteristics of judgmental thinking – accusation and criticism.

Taking a fault-based approach and pointing the finger of blame doesn’t encourage someone to improve or take initiative. Instead they’ll fall into a mindset of relying on you to spell out what they should do and how to do it. Responsibility and ownership will give way to blindly and begrudgingly following orders. In industries where innovation is a necessity this could be a huge problem for a business.

For a manager or instructor, communication is a real balancing act. Criticism and judgment can cause a negative reaction, but the employee or individual needs to recognize what went wrong and how they can improve.

Taking a non-judgmental approach with communication begins by being more mindful of how you behave. Do you jump to conclusions? Are your observations based mostly on facts? Often we’re completely unaware we’re being judgmental, which is part of the problem.

Your own self-judgments can also bleed into how you communicate with others. If you set certain expectations for yourself and judge yourself harshly there’s a good chance others will receive the same treatment.

Knowing your triggers is crucial to using less judgmental communication. Sometimes an emotion can set the judgmental wheels in motion. Other times you’ll notice a specific word indicates a judgmental thought is occurring. The more mindful we are of when we’re going into judgment mode the easier it is to avoid.


Non-Verbal Communication Can Be Judge-y Too

Even if we don’t say a word, we can still give off a judgmental cues with our body language. As we’ve discussed before,non-verbal communication is the primary way we relay ideas and messages. For example, someone who is listening with their arms crossed and their lips pursed will quickly give off a judgmental appearance.

Tone can also imply judgment. The same sentence can be construed as a discernment or a judgment simply based on the tone that’s used.


Simple Tips That Can Help Anyone Master Non-Judgmental Communication

The kryptonite of judgmental communication is keeping an open mind. Having pre-conceived notions can sometimes invite judgmental thinking. As the oft-quoted saying goes, “Be curious, not judgmental.”

  • When in disagreement, commit to focusing on the veracity of a claim, not your opinions of the person you disagree with.
  • Hear the person out all the way before coming to a conclusion.
  • Ask “why” to get a better understanding behind someone’s actions or thinking.
  • Ask them what they think could be improved. They may make the same observations you’ve made, which helps neutralize judgment.
  • Instead of giving something a thumbs down offer constructive pointers and ideas for improvement.
  • Use non-judgmental language. Instead of “good”, “bad”, “right” and “wrong” use the word “interesting” and follow it up with your observations.
  • Keep things focused on the situation at hand and avoid generalizations.


The DUAL Method

Leo Babauta, creator of Zen Habits, has identified a non-judgmental communication method he’s dubbed DUAL. Here are the four steps:

Don’t Pass Judgment – The first step involves analyzing your own thought process and becoming more self-aware. Over the span of a few days, make a note of any time you make an unwarranted judgment and what triggered it. This will help you recognize when it’s happening and correct the judgmental thinking.

Understand – Go into empathy mode, and try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Ask questions and get more of a backstory so you can fully understand their thinking and actions.

Accept – This can be challenging, but it’s important to accept that others have a different way of thinking, usually because they’ve had different life experiences. Their values are not your values, and that’s okay.

Love–Once you’re able to accept the reality that everyone else is coming from a different perspective than you, try to embrace that notion. Focus on the value that comes from a person’s unique point of view.


Judgmental communication creates division rather than cohesion. We’re all entitled to our own opinion. We just have to know when to keep them to ourselves and how to express them in a constructive way.