Judgment vs Curiosity (And Why It Matters in Leadership)


Founder and Co-owner

The following is adapted from The Power of a Graceful Leader.

As leaders, we make judgments every single day. 

When we see someone frown, we often make a judgment that they are upset. 

When someone makes a mistake that negatively impacts us our our workplace, we often make a judgment that they are incompetent. 

If an employee covers their desk in pink, we assume that they love pink. 

A “judgment” can be positive, negative, or neutral— a judgment is simply the process of forming an opinion based on the facts at hand. 

The problem? Usually, even as leaders, we do not have all the facts at hand. Therefore, when we make judgments, we are using our own guess work and limited perspective to do so. 

Unfortunately, when we make decisions based on our judgments that are based on assumptions, the quality of our leadership begins to quickly decline. In fact, judgments of any kind can cause missed opportunities and mischief… even when you’re trying to do somebody else a kindness. So how can we start to move away from judgements? We have to start with curiosity. 

Judgments can create missed opportunities. 

One winter in Vermont, I was working at the car dealership as a salesperson. 

Now, as any good car salesman knows, you don’t sell a lot of cars in winter. If someone does come looking for a car in the winter, though, they’re usually serious. We worked totally on commission, so things could be a little cutthroat. However, we did have a system where we took turns with customers whenever someone came onto the lot.

On one particularly snowy day, a young woman arrived on the lot decked out in ski gear. The guy whose turn it was took one look at her and said, “You can have her.” He made a snap judgment that she wasn’t a serious buyer. 

Well, turns out that young woman was Diann Roffe, a US Olympic skier. Even better, she already knew exactly what she wanted. She essentially just handed me a check and said, “Put the order through.” It was one of the easiest sales of my life. 

Needless to say, my coworker seriously regretted judging a book by its cover. 

When my coworker saw the young woman walk into the dealership, his judgment was that she wasn’t a serious customer.  However, if he had questioned that judgment, he may have considered that he did not have all the information. Maybe he then would have chosen to approach her with curiosity before jumping to a conclusion 

There’s often not a right or wrong answer in a given situation. The important thing is to consider all of the answers so that you can make the best decision you can. Question all your judgments, good and bad.

Curiosity is the eliminator of judgment. 

If making judgments is a natural way of moving through the world, how do we disrupt this pattern? Curiosity is our tool for pattern interruption.

According to Mirriam-Webster, curiosity can be defined as, “interest leading to inquiry.” A curious person is interested in what’s actually true, not confirming what they already think is true. 

Curiosity has no agenda, and therefore curiosity and judgment cannot coexist. As soon as you stop and ask a question, you create space between your thought and the inquiry. In that space, you have a choice. 

You may end up choosing to judge. Until you make that choice, though, the judgment does not exist. You can’t be judging while you’re still choosing. If you slow everything down to ask, “Why would a good and decent person do that?” or “How did this come to happen?” or whatever the inquiry might be, it allows you to step outside of your story and consider other potential answers. That is curiosity doing its job.

I won’t lie— it will be difficult. As humans, we love patterns. So much of our lives is dictated by patterns and habits. It makes us efficient, sometimes at the expense of effectiveness. However, sometimes the patterns we’re operating from are based on inaccurate or incomplete information. Curiosity is the best way to discover those cracks in our judgements.  

Graceful leaders are open to the truth. 

Graceful leaders are not married to their judgments. By being open to other facts beyond their own perspective, graceful leaders can make more-informed decisions that consider the big picture of a situation. 

Leaders who harness the power of curiosity  are able to make decisions that are for the greater good, not just for the specific moment in time or for the specific individual in front of them. They don’t feel a need to be right, and they are curious about others’ perspectives. 

Graceful leaders want the best solution, not their solution. It takes confident, self-assured leaders to move beyond judgements and into the wide, wonderful world of curiosity.  

For more advice on graceful leadership, you can find The Power of a Graceful Leader on Amazon.

Alexsys Thompson offers this body of work as a testament to her own leadership journey, as well as the journey of hundreds of other leaders. For Alexsys, the tipping point came when she established her gratitude practice and spent a decade refining it. Today, developing a gratitude practice is a key element of her work as a board-certified executive coach. Alexsys also serves as adjunct staff for The Center for Creative Leadership and is a member of the Forbes Coaching Council. She authored The Trybal Gratitude Journals, curated a collection of short stories called Gratitude 540, and is building a retreat center in Vermont that will be a “safe space for souls to show up.”

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