This past week I had an interesting conversation with one of my favorite clients. He’s a C-level executive for a national company and was doing a bit of venting about another executive in the company who displayed a behavior which my client felt was weak for someone in that position. It was nothing unethical or irresponsible, but this executive had taken a position about an issue and then, after someone else presented a different perspective, changed his position. It felt to my client like the executive didn’t have the conviction of his beliefs on the issue at hand; that he hadn’t thoroughly thought through his answer.
The details of the incident aren’t as important as the concept of assessing vs. judging. When we judge, we naturally conclude that someone or something is good/bad or right/wrong. We also tend to generalize about that person based on our judgment of that one particular event, statement or action. We compare the other person (or thing) against our own abilities and experience. This is exactly what happened during the meeting my client related to me. I believe many of us have developed a judging approach to people and things, which causes us to take a trait or lack thereof and project it in a general way to all aspects of that person.
After some discussion, we concluded that this executive had many redeeming qualities and skills, and that painting him with a broad paintbrush was inappropriate. A better perspective could have been developed assessing the situation and the person, rather than judging them. Let me explain…
The dictionary defines ‘Assess‘ as, “To determine the value, significance, or extent of” and defines ‘Judge‘ to mean, “To form an opinion or estimation of” When we judge, we form an opinion, which often occurs quickly and with little other input. When we assess, we determine someone’s (or something’s) value, which requires gathering facts and putting them in perspective relative to everyone or everything else. If someone were to highlight an area in which we, ourselves, were weak, we’d probably say, “OK, but what about all the areas of strength I do have and all the other skills I possess?” In other words, we’d help the other person put everything in proper perspective.
The above scenario relates to how we observe others as well as how others observe us. Yes, the other person surely has weaknesses, but you can only determine the importance of their weakness by assessing them as a whole. By example, someone may be poor in math skills but have an extraordinary creative talent. If you were to judge them strictly based on their math skills, you might generalize and conclude that they aren’t very sharp and therefore couldn’t really make a positive contribution to the team. On the other hand, if you assess their skills properly, you’d conclude that they indeed can be an important contributor to the team,… just don’t ask them to add!
Learning to assess rather than judge comes from appreciating the variety of strengths people have and at the same time recognizing our own weaknesses. No one is always right and no one is always wrong. By developing the habit of looking for the positive in people, you, as a leader, can make better decisions, build better teams, and develop stronger contributors. You’ll be taking your leadership skills to the next level.