Most of us like to think that we are open-minded.  We see ourselves as relatively open to new ideas, perspectives, and ways of doing things.  When I ask people in workshops or teambuilding sessions how “open” they think they are—very rarely do I get someone who confesses to having a closed mind or who sees him or herself as quick to judge others or situations.

Yet if you look a bit more closely—do your actual behaviors reflect the act of coming to immediate judgment about almost everything all the time?

When was the last time you were at a conference or listening to a presentation?

As you start listening to a speaker—what is going through your head?  You most likely are immediately making an evaluation about whether the person is credible, whether you agree or disagree with what he/she is saying, and whether or not you like the presentation.  One to five minutes in, and I’ll bet you have a judgment in your head.

Same thing happens when you meet someone new.

Or when you see someone for the first time.

Or when you are faced with a new situation.

You scan what is in front of you and your mind jumps to evaluate.

To form an opinion.

To draw a conclusion.

You don’t even realize you are doing it—but you are unconsciously evaluating everything around you.

So what’s wrong with that?

When we rush to judge, several things happen.  One is, we no longer really listen.  Our listening is filtered through the lens of evaluation.  Once we evaluate something, we are now operating from a set of assumptions that line-up to rationalize our evaluation.  It is hard to learn from or appreciate something from that place of an already formed judgment.

Here’s an example directly from yours truly:  (Who by the way, considers herself to be quite open-minded…)

A few months ago, my husband and I were walking down the main promenade street in Santa Monica, California on a Saturday.  There are always an array of street performers and various interesting characters lined up and down this main street of stores and restaurants.  An older lady reading tea leaves, child drummers, singers, dancers, jugglers, and the like create an entertaining stroll.

That particular day, a group of people dressed in white robes and shaking tambourines were singing a song about mercy for animals and handing out flyers about the benefits of being vegan.  As someone who strives to lean towards a primarily plant-based diet, I was curious.  But even with my curiosity peaked, I found my mind making sweeping judgments about the dress, the dancing, and the credibility of those handing out the flyers.  My evaluating function, which I’m sure is there in full force to protect me and keep me safe, was automatically dismissing this information as not credible.  I was perfectly safe, in the middle of a city square, so no danger was afoot.  I caught myself and moved my mind from evaluation to questions.

What was the information on the flyer about being a vegan?

What could I learn?

I smiled and grabbed a flyer.  I shifted my judgment mindset to one of learning and appreciation.  This group was having fun and the dancers were enjoying themselves. They were advocating non-violence and mercy towards all creatures.  Perhaps instead of rushing to evaluate I could stop and appreciate their spirit?  (I learned a lot that day…)

This may be a simplistic example, but it illustrates how we instantly take in and filter information and form a judgment.  Just realizing that we do this can have a tremendous impact on our own learning.  Taking a moment to notice our own automatic responses, jumps to judgment, and shifting our mindset from one of judgment to one of curiosity has amazing effects.  It allows us to notice, listen, and learn more.

Try monitoring your own jumps to judgment as an experiment.

For the next week, pay attention to how many times you jump to evaluation and judgment in your interactions or observations.  When you do catch your internal judging, notice the dialog playing out in your head.  Refrain from making and believing your own immediate or inherent assumption about someone or something. Instead of that judgment conclusion, pause and seek to learn more and understand the person or context.  Be curious and ask a question.

What will be revealed to you in this exercise is pretty powerful.

First, you will probably be amazed at how quickly you jump to judgment about almost everything, even if you see yourself as pretty open-minded.    But what is interesting is how much more you will learn about how fallible your own brilliant assumptions about things are, and how much you are missing out on learning because of them.

Try it for a week.  Notice your jump to judgment, and suspend it.  Replace it with humble curiosity and inquiry.  I’d love to hear what you learn.