“Judging” Others Isn’t Bad, It’s Essential

Do you find it troubling or disturbing if I tell you that I’m positive you go about your daily life judging other people? If you do, what is it about the word, ‘judging’ that puts you on the defensive? Judging others is not only something you do all the time, its a critical part of your self-defence system that has got you this far in life.

Okay so you’re walking in a strange neighbourhood – wait – it’s not strange to the people who live there and frequent it all the time. No, the neighbourhood is just unfamiliar to you, and yet you chose to think of it as strange instead of new or unfamiliar. Moving on though, you see this large, imposing figure come out of nowhere and who is now walking toward you with their head held high, shoulders square, and your senses tell you to be on your guard. You furtively look for an open store to dash into until they pass, or cross the street to avoid meeting them altogether. Your survival instincts kicked in based on your past experiences; real and vicariously lived through television, movies and books.

Yes we make judgements about people based on how they dress, walk, act, their tattoo’s or body piercings, their vocabulary and where they live. If we meet them and strike up a conversation, we ask what they do for a living, where they went to school, who’s in their social circle, what they’ve read lately, what they do in their spare time, and we form opinions and judge them based on every little piece of information that we gather. And those people are instinctively doing the same thing about us.

Employers are no different. When they get our cover letters or resumes, they start assessing whether or not we might be a good fit to work for and with them. Spelling and grammatical errors might cause them to judge us as poorly educated, having little regard for proofreading and attention to details, illiterate or worse. Written work that is error free and grammatically correct may cause them to judge us as well-educated, professional, desirable and having a strong attention to detail.

Now follow this pattern to a first meeting, and in seconds, you’ll find yourself looked up and down, and an initial first impression is made by them about you. Presumably you chose your clothing when dressing, so that says something about you and how you see yourself. Did you dress conventionally to fit in with those who work there currently or did you decide to express your individuality and go with the reindeer socks for the big interview?

Yes judging others is something we all do. Think back on some of the more notable people in your past. A favourite teacher, a kind neighbour, your favourite grandparent or Aunt. Think now of some of those whom you didn’t really get on with too; the bully in the playground, the stern teacher, an abusive partner, a boss who treated you unfairly. Got some images for the good and bad folks of the past or possibly even the present? Good.

As you now go about your daily life, you’re running into people all the time. There’s the cashier at the grocery store, the bank teller, the person who makes your coffee, the person your best friend introduces you to etc. And of course there are job interviewers, workshop facilitator’s, mental health counsellors and even Employment Counsellors. All of these people are no different. Meet any of them for the first time and you’ll immediately form some reaction.

So what’s going on in those first 1 – 10 seconds when you meet? Your brain takes in all the visual and auditory information it can gather and immediately starts comparing what you are now experiencing with all the data it’s collected and stored about similar people you may have encountered in the past. If the person in front of you fits with the good experiences you’ve had, your impression is a positive one. If however the data you are feeding to your brain via your senses of sight, sound, smell and possibly touch match up with people from your past with whom you’ve had bad experiences, you’ll have a negative reaction.

This explains why you and your best friend have a different impression of someone you both just met for the first time. And it also is why some organizations have panel interviews; to get two or more people’s assessment of you the job applicant and see if they can agree on who would be the best fit.

After that first impression, there may be many more interactions. These subsequent interactions either confirm our initial first impressions, or they provide additional data to our brains that cause us to re-think and re-evaluate our initial thoughts, and our judgement of others may shift slightly or completely. However, in the case of a job interview, we may only get a single shot at the job. Those first 1 – 10 seconds are vital then to making a positive impression. The next 11 seconds – 1 hour will either confirm for the interviewer that they had you sized up properly right at the start, or may change their opinion of you based on your answers and your non-verbal communication.

So you do it, they do it, we all do it; we judge; and it’s a good thing. You’re judging me right now based on what you’ve read. I’m hoping I’ve made a good impression!