It’s so easy, all to often, to go immediately to judgment, bypassing reflection, bypassing all other available states. As much as I try to pause and reflect, it’s happened to me twice recently, so I’m working on being conscious about how I react.
A friend packed some valuable jewelry in her checked luggage, only to have it stolen by security personnel. She just posted about it, starting with a reminder that she didn’t need one more person telling her she shouldn’t have done this and ending with a reminder that travelers should have a reasonable expectation that the very people who were inspecting their bags, ostensibly to protect us all from danger, should also be protecting our possessions. ‘Whoops,” I thought, “She just nailed me. I hadn’t responded to her initial post about the theft because I had done exactly what several others had done. I went immediately to judgment. After all, hadn’t everyone heard horror stories about thefts from checked bags? Why would she do that? “Well,” I thought, “at leadst I didn’t post what I was thinking.” Whoops. Double judgment – maybe triple. I had judged my friend. Now I was judging the people who put in print what I had been thinking. And judging myself from allowing my negative thinking from supporting a friend who had had a very sad thing happen to her.
A potential business friend sent an email thanking several people for a service they had done. She included notice of a future gift of thanks. She went on to make an additional time-framed request for support. I responded with an abrupt, poorly worded response that included my feeling that the relationship was becoming unbalanced in terms of give and take. She responded with an insult and an expression of deep pain and feelings of betrayal. I apologized, in response, for the tone of my email and suggested that this would be best addressed in conversation, not in writing. She responded that she still feels hurt and suggested I try again at a later date. I responded with a bit more information about the give and take balance and left the next step up to her.
Whew! That was hard. Trying to remove the assumptions and conclusions in an effort to get to ground truth – just the facts is hard. In both stories, there are dozens of assumptions. Each needs to be uncovered and examined. In the first story, we can only know one side. The thief (judgment) is not likely to return the jewelry or discuss his/her motivation.
In the second, there’s a lot to discuss. There are alternate explanations and mitigating circumstances. There are possible poor choices of words and possible misinterpretations. I know some of mine. I prefer my “thank you” messages to be just that and nothing more. I need to remember to step away from emails that upset me and process my feelings before responding. Are they appropriate? The ony ones Possible? Free of judgment? Does the other person see this the same way as I do? How am I (mis)interpreting their motivation.
I know better (judgment) than to respond when I am tired or ill, and I did so anyhow. I should (judgment) re-read messages before I hit send. I’m assuming that she has deliberately ignored my requests of her. The list could go on for a while here.
There’s a tool called the Ladder of Inference. It shows how we select specific pieces of data from any situation, focus on them, interpret them based on our personal values and beliefs about how the world operates and then act accordingly – all in a matter of seconds. I know this – I teach this – and I forget to use it. I know what I’d tell my clients about these situations. Time to coach myself.