The “Power” of Observation

Are you in the habit of judging someone’s behavior or are you in the habit of observing their behavior?

Understanding the difference between the two can potentially open up a lot of additional opportunities for you.

Let’s start with judgement.

Most of us – whether we know it or not – are coming from a place of “conditional” acceptance.

This means that before we will accept someone else’s behavior, we unconsciously put “conditions” on it.

And, when we put “conditions” on something, it means we are coming from a place of judgement.

Here’s how it works… 

It’s because we unconsciously put “conditions” (or criteria) on accepting the behavior of other people.

Our “conditions” for accepting someone else’s behavior are that… either 1) we agree with the behavior or 2) understand the behavior or 3) both.

And, because we unconsciously apply these criteria to their behavior, “acceptance” of the other person’s behavior has become “conditional” on agreement and/or understanding – which is how we unwittingly move into judgement.

And, we don’t even know we are doing it.

These two conditions – agreement and/or understanding –  mean different things to different people.

For example, we can agree with something and not necessarily understand it and we can understand something and not necessarily agree with it.

But, if we “agree” with something, then there is a better chance that we may understand it.

And, if we understand it, there is a greater chance of ultimately agreeing with it and therefore ultimately accepting it.

That’s how these two criteria cause us to come from a place of “conditional” acceptance – which is called judgement.

But, the thing about judgement is that sometimes it works for us and sometimes it doesn’t.

It works for us when the behavior we see in front of us is potentially harmful to us.

If the behavior is potentially harmful (usually “physical”), judgement is a good thing because it allows us to avoid the harm.

Here’s an example of potentially harmful behavior

You are standing in a public place and someone looks out of control, getting very verbally and physically threatening with another person.

You don’t agree with this type of behavior in public or ever.  And, because you’ve never behaved like this yourself you can’t understand what could cause a person to behave like this. So, you don’t “accept” it and you “judge” it as potentially harmful to you and others, so you walk away.  Interestingly, this process often happens unconsciously and can happen very quickly, especially if you feel threatened.

This is when judgement helps you.

But, more often than not, we “judge” when there is no potential physical harm involved. And, that can create problems.

Because if a behavior is not physically harmful – and you judge it because you don’t understand and or agree with it, this can get you into trouble.

Here’s what this kind of judgement looks like…

You’re sitting in a meeting and one of your peers says the reason for not meeting a deadline was because they were not properly supported by the department they were working with.

Since you head up this department, and you don’t understand or agree with what they said, you publicly say they are wrong. In other words, you don’t accept their reason.

You have just judged the situation and come from a place of judgement.

Even worse, on further investigation – which you didn’t get to immediately, because you “judged” the other person, dismissing the validity of their comments – you find out that it was your department that was actually responsible for them not meeting the deadline.

Your competence is now automatically in question. This happened because you behaved out of judgement.

That’s an example of how judgement can jeopardize your success.

Here’s why it puts you in jeopardy….

Whenever you view an individual from a place of judgement, it potentially:

  1. Narrows your view
  2. Limits your options
  3. Increases the risk of your becoming a victim
  4. Makes it easier for your intent to be misinterpreted

Here’s a healthier way of approaching it…

Instead of making your acceptance of someone conditional on agreeing with or understanding their behavior, step outside yourself and go to a place of “observation” instead of “judgement”.

Buddhist’s call this “mindful awareness”. It means purposefully fixing your attention on the whole event, not just yourself in the event.

Here’s why this is important.

When you move to observation, you…

  1. Broaden your view
  2. Expand the range and scope of your options
  3. Are less likely to become a victim of the situation
  4. Dramatically decrease the risk of having your intent misinterpreted

When you step outside yourself, you imagine observing yourself in the situation with the intent of trying to understand the WHOLE situation – not just yourself in it.

This means you are purely observing – not agreeing or disagreeing. Which means you aren’t judging.

When you are observing, here are some useful questions to ask yourself:

 1. Is the other person allowed to have a point-of-view?

 If  you answer “yes”, how different is this from you being allowed to have a point-of-view?

 If you answer “no”, why aren’t they entitled to a point-of-view? They are equally entitled to have a point-of-view.

 2. Is the other person entitled to their opinion?

If “yes”, is their right to have an opinion any different from your right to have an opinion?

 If “no”, why not? They are equally entitled to their opinion.

So if you answer “yes” to the two questions, you have to agree that they are entitled to their behavior or opinion as much as you are to yours.

And, here’s the kicker – even if you answer no, it doesn’t change the fact they are still entitled to a point-of-view and an opinion.

If you understand this, you’ve moved away from judgement because you have just removed “agreement” as a reason for not accepting their behavior.

Once you are willing to acknowledge that they are entitled to a point of view and an opinion, it becomes more clear that your “view” or even the behavior you choose is only one of many options.

The other person’s choices are equally valid.

The immediate reward for coming from a place of “observation” versus “judgement” is that it leads you to greater clarity and understanding, which better allows you to move forward and grow.

It also allows you to see many more opportunities and options, probably feel less of a victim and have your intent misinterpreted less often.

You will probably also experience a lot less stress.

That’s the wonderful power of observation.