Judging versus Supporting Others

Good VS Evil
Image by Sabrintha Linda

You know the old glass is half full metaphor.

Well, that applies to the way we talk about and critique others. We can support the strong points someone offers, or we can tear them up.

This is particularly true of teams, communities and other group activities.

Harvard Business Review ran a great piece by Rosabeth Kanter a few months ago about creating a positive culture of respect.

“Winners can maintain high aspirations and act generously toward others,” said Kanter. “Losers are more likely to blame others and disdain them as mediocre, creating a culture of finger-pointing and infighting.”

This struck me. I’m not a good manager of people.

But one thing I have learned from those experiences that I apply is the need to focus on the positive. When I focus on people’s positive attributes and celebrate them publicly and privately things go so much smoother.

It’s not that I don’t see their negative sides. Believe me, I am a judgmental jerk, and the person I judge the most is myself. But when things are going well, I choose to ignore flaws.

This is true of when I’m a team player, too.

Conversely, the negativity of harsh judgment and criticism only makes for a bad situation. Even if I don’t voice that criticism, I really dislike participating in team efforts with people.

Notice that the people’s actual actions have very little to do with the outcome.

Rather, it has everything to do with whether I am judging them, or accepting them for who they are.

When I find myself in a negative place with others where things don’t look so rosy, I need to check my thinking.

Am I levying judgment or am I supporting others’ strengths?

It’s not just work, too. Even over Thanksgiving Dinner, I can cherish the great things about family members, or pick them a part. The prior usually means I’ll have a good time, while the latter leads to a toxic affair.

What do you think of team play, positive and negative?

And have a Happy Thanksgiving, this will be the last post here until Monday. I’ll see you next week!


  • This is good stuff. I think we could all use the reminder now and again. Personally, and I’m opening up a bit here, I tend to struggle with this sort of thing.

    I believe the world is an amazing place full of amazing people and that, given the slightest of things in common, we can all live in peace and harmony. My passion for cars has connected me to people all over the world – even in places like Tehran.

    At the same time, I get a little nervous walking through my own neighborhood after dark; not because it’s even remotely sketch, but because I just don’t trust the local sheep. Ironic, isn’t it?

    There’s something sad about knowing – and talking to – more people on the far side of the planet every day than you do people in your street. We press on regardless, though. Never, ever, ever, give up.

    • What a way to illustrate this… But sometimes you have to trust your gut, too. I don’t believe in carte blanche, I just believe in not right for me. If there’s a lot of crime in your neighborhood, it probably makes sense to be conservative. The opposite would be unsafe.

      • I blame Dunbar. If I’m only capable of maintaining relationships with 150-ish people, I want to be fairly selective with whom I establish and maintain those relationships.

        Think about your parents. How was their world view shaped? Who curated their perspectives? I’d bet it was the people in their neighborhood, their church, perhaps the radio or network TV? It’s incredible to think how our perspectives change due to the variety of social signals we receive from a truly global community.

        And just think what our kids are going to think in 20 years… WOW!

  • In my opinion supporting other people’s strengths lays the groundwork for when you need to provide constructive criticism. It is an important change to the mindset and one that I will be watching for in my own behaviour!

    • Ha, it’s hard for me. I am a consistent perfectionist, and for a long time, didn’t get why people weren’t working as hard as me (or my perception of me). I realized that I was wrong, and that 98% of the population cares not care about the things I do…

  • Happy Thanksgiving Geoff:) Cherish…let everything else roll like water off a duck’s back. Cheers! Kaarina

  • Love this Geoff… Happy Thanksgiving bud!

  • Hi Geoff,

    In my opinion, it is impossible to not have any
    conflict at all in personal or professional relationships. Conflicts are
    necessary for example in a competitive environment ( even their good
    practices of sharing can thrive. IBM has a huge catalog of technical
    articles for the world to read even though it is the most huge
    competition another company in the same field would have ).

    only time conflict threatens peace is when it becomes a source of ego
    based clashes or greed of some kind. I think if we see this happening,
    it is better to let it go or extinguish it.

    I wrote about
    http://aks-blog.com/2012/11/15/stand-up-employees-mistakes/ standing up
    for your employees when they make mistakes while also making sure that
    they don’t repeat it. Praises can happen in public but it is better to
    admonish in private.

    Happy Thanksgiving :)

    • While I do believe in pushing people in the right direction, there are ways to do this without conflict. Show people the right way to do things. highlight what things they did well, and how to improve them, rather than tear down what they did wrong.

      My experience with conflict is that if you exercise that option too frequently, your entire workforce will hate you. You’re better off documenting needed improvements, and pulling the plug when someone doesn’t meet them.

  • Your candor and self-reflection motivate me. Also (regretfully and entirely due to my own weakness) – this post causes discomfort. More so than what my ego prefers to admit. It is difficult to express how much I loathe this quality about myself i.e. the negative judgement of others. And often, I allow this judgement to be mentally archived…as some kind of justification to distrust or critique future behavior of people. Does that make sense? As in, it’s not enough that I judge certain individuals; I then allow that judgement to stick, vs let it go and start clean (or even better, to focus on more positive attributes as you advocate). I would like to think my approach to teams and building allegiance were at one time more uplifting and empathetic. But if I really try to shove my ego aside now, it’s evident my inner critic has taken hold for a while, with negative consequences. …..This reply is pretty self-involved. So thanks for your patience in me sharing it. It has been a useful catharsis.

    • I think this is really normal, Jill. First impressions are hard to undo. I also think we have natural instincts that sometimes protect us.

      There is nothing wrong with being a little wary. I think we need to also be true to ourselves. It’s not that other people are wrong or bad, but something may not be right for us. Honoring that voice inside is so critical…

      Thank you for a frank and honest comment.

  • There are many things that drive me nuts. Most of them, though, I keep to myself.

    I did some soul searching and realized that the main reason I wanted to point out someone’s mistakes, was really to show how clever I was in knowing how it was done. That isn’t a great thing to learn about one’s self.

    If people who are masters of punctuation were to look at my posts, especially the one from 2010, they would see that I did NOT understand proper comma use. I’m much better now, but not nearly error free. The point is that though I can name a bunch of things I do correctly in certain areas, I have plenty of room for improvement in others, so I should focus on that, not on letting people know about where they are lacking.

    Good post.

    • I am as bad. I really hate that part of myself. Like you, I increasingly keep these opinions to myself, in large part because of my own personal glass house.

      I think this is a function of the way we are taught as children. To be be better than our peers, etc., etc. We can only hope to grow beyond these things.

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