Judging Favorably Gets You Ahead

Everyone makes mistakes. Employees, bosses, spouses, parents, children, friends—no one gets through life without messing up, and mistakes can be painful. Think of the time you heard someone criticizing you behind your back or the time you totally blew up at your spouse. That pain doesn’t always disappear so easily, but with time, mistakes can be fixed and forgiven.

Judging favorably is one of the key ways to mitigate the negative effects of mistakes. But before we learn how to judge favorably, we must first recognize our own biases.

Studies show that attribution biases run rampant in the workplace. For example, if my project turns out exceptionally well, I will naturally attribute that success to my own efforts and qualities. If my project does not turn out well, I will blame it on external factors such as other people and circumstances. If someone else does well on a project, I may immediately tell myself “they had a great team,” “they had so long to complete that,” or some other narrative that takes the credit away from that person. If that person fails, I will likely blame them for that failure. In other words, my successes are because of me and my failures are because of something or someone else. But other people's mistakes are because of them and their successes are due to an outside factor.

Why Judging Favorably Makes Sense

Judging favorably is not blindly ignoring others’ downfalls or naively pretending situations are perfect when they are not; it is learning to judge others with the same standards that we judge ourselves. I know that when I am late for work, I usually have a good reason; my kid was not feeling well, there was a bad traffic jam, or I was so stressed out from working late that I was just not able to get it together on time. When someone else is late or messed up in any way, try to apply the same positive bias you have towards yourself to others. It’s not being naïve, it’s being fair.

Learning to Judge Favorably

Learning to judge favorably is like learning anything else; it takes practice. Don’t expect an overnight change, and don’t beat yourself up if it’s hard at first. Every time you take a moment to think “there may be circumstances that I am not aware of” or “he/she must be going through something really tough” before blaming someone for a mistake, you’re exercising your empathy muscles, and you are growing. Of course, there are times when others need to be reprimanded, but remember that you are criticizing their actions, not them as a person. Your mistakes do not define you, and their mistakes do not define them.

How Judging Favorably Gets You Ahead

Seeing the good and potential in others is a conscious choice and one that gets reflected back to you. The more you are able to put aside your own biases and give others the benefit of the doubt, the more others will do the same for you.

Like any toddler, my 2-year-old is extremely self-centered. She also copies almost everything I say and do. This incredible little person has already taught me a lot about life, but how to judge favorably is something I have really had to work on.

“you’re throwing a tantrum in the grocery store? You must be tired!”, “You’re hitting your friend? You must not understand yet that hitting is not nice!” I could make a million excuses for my toddler’s behavior which are 100% justified because toddlers don’t naturally know better, they need to learn. We are often the same way—what appears to be a blatant disregard for the rules and regulations may be a simple misunderstanding or other circumstances that are making things exceedingly challenging. I only hope that as I work on judging favorably, my daughter will start copying that, too. 

When mistakes are made, there is an opportunity for growth. Yes, the person who messed up learns from their mistake. But you, the observer, also have the opportunity to learn to judge favorably, a skill that will serve you for life.

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