We often confuse two quite different things: Stating observations and Making judgments.
|“That project task is behind by two days, which affects the dependent task we assigned to Bob.”||“This totally messed up Bob’s timeline.”|
|“This interface has six options to select from, some ‘above the fold’ and some you have to scroll down to select.”||“This interface has way too many options and confuses people.”|
|“She appeared to struggle to answer Jill’s open-ended question.”||“She would do better in less ambiguous situations.”|
|“I like the way your format emails to put the key ideas up front.”||“You write great emails!”|
|I can only think of two instances when Fred’s direct reports were frustrated with his management style.||Fred’s ready for promotion.|
See the difference? Feel the difference? This difference – and how people perceive that difference – is a critical factor in organizational relationships and project work.
It’s not wrong to make judgments – making judgments is part of your role as a leader. I can make an argument from biology that we are wired to make judgments. When you do need to make a leadership judgment, make sure it’s supported by multiple observations. Don’t jump there too quickly.
Skilled and wise leaders pay careful attention to when they choose to share observations and not express judgments. There are many instances where the most professional and effective course is to withhold judgments and communicate your observations.
When giving people feedback, making decisions, or trying to take concrete steps to move ahead on projects, focus on observations and guarding against expressing judgments. You’ll get farther by sharing your observations. You are much less likely to trigger defensive positions and posturing because you ramp down the emotional content. Note in the examples above how much emotional impact comes through on the Judgment side.
(Fair warning: you will be misinterpreted sometimes when you share observations. Humans have an infinite capacity to interpret incorrectly or unhelpfully.)
Self-examination will alert you to times when you jumped to judgments too quickly, or should keep the conversation to observations. You will also start noticing how many times other people make positive and negative judgments about you, rather than observing the facts.
Here’s a homework assignment for you. In the next two work days, keep score of how many statements made are observations and how many are judgments. Notice how these help or hinder a dialogue. I suspect you’ll observe that more judgments are shared than simple observations.