You can’t judge a book by its cover – ok well maybe you do any way

Have you ever had the experience of disliking someone you really didn’t have a good reason to dislike? Maybe you just met them and there is this “something” about them you can’t stand?

Or, maybe there is someone in your social circle or at work you are not a fan of but have to deal with regularly. Each time you have be around them you cringe.

Here’ a quick story about how I went from loathing to loving a person and what I learned about our natural instincts of judgement. Learning how to control judgement and get rid of it when it’s in the way of opportunity can have you expand your success in all areas of life.


Six years ago I was taking a leadership course in New York. It was a three-day course and each evening we had a list of assignments. One them was to bring a dictionary to class.

I forgot to do my homework and remembered only as I entered the room and noticed a sea of dictionaries. I sat down feeling annoyed with myself.

Of course you forgot! You’re so disorganized. You suck!

Moments later in walked a classmate that I referred to in my head as “Mr. Perfect”. Not the most creative label but it did the job to describe how I related to this man.

He strolled in dressed like a high paid business man, someone you’d find on Wall Street. And so damn fit and polished in appearance. He sat down across the room with the world’s largest most comprehensive dictionary.  (Like, really dude?)

Giant dictionaryOf course he brought the most extensive dictionary in the world. It was just like him to do so. I was aggravated. I thought: “How could a person be so perfect, so put together all the the time?”

And, yes, there was a shred of jealousy.  I certainly didn’t feel very perfect and polished most of the time, no matter how I tried.

Months after this weekend we were out with a group of mutual friends at a pub. After a few beers we had a conversation that completely shifted the dynamic of our non-relationship. It went something like this:

Mr. Perfect: “You know, I think I actually like you. You’re actually pretty cool. To be honest, I used to think you were a cold bitch”.

Me: “Me? A bitch?!” 

Mr. Perfect: “Ya. You were always sitting in class with a pissed off look on your face, all serious with your arms crossed. What’s with the f**** you attitude?”

Me: “Woah. I never knew I came off like that. I’m the sweetest kindest person. I don’t hate anybody.  I’m actually very insecure about the way I look. I never feel good enough. I think that’s why I come off cold and distant. I don’t know how you can be so polished all the time. You’re like a Mr. Perfect.” 

Mr. Perfect: “Me? You think I’m perfect? I certainly don’t think that about myself. Truth is, I’m pretty hard on myself. I never think I’m good enough.” 

After this conversation things were never the same and they couldn’t be. We had both been unabashedly authentic with each other and fessed up to what we thought. We were able to understand each other on a deeper level. We were both dealing with different versions of the same feelings of inadequacy.

But most importantly, we were able to remove our judgements of each other and experience each other for who we were. He was no longer “Mr. Perfect” he was just a guy with similar challenges and issues as myself.

And we became good friends. (And we ended up going on a few dates.) Today, years later, that person runs a charity for children that my husband created.

This experience had me learn some profound things about judgement:

Judgements are natural. First of all there’s nothing you can do to get rid of judgements. In fact, all thoughts are judgements. You just want to filter what’s a true threat versus what’s a bias from from your past. Noticing a judgement allows you to disrupt it and choose a new action.

Judgements keep us safe. They are important because it’s what us humans use to evaluate our environment and decide if it’s safe before we interact with it.  For instance, “that driver is an idiot” will have you slow down and avoid them, potentially saving your life if they make a mistake in their haste.

Judgements kill opportunities. Start to monitor your judgements. Ask yourself could: “I be missing a major opportunity in this circumstance or with this person?” You may be looking for a higher paying job or an “in” with a company and the person you are judging could either be the hiring manager or the connection to the right person that you need to speak to.

When judging someone from all sides, you gain tremendous power, and insight. Developing the skill of objective thinking can help you see all sides of a situation and make a better, more accurate judgement. Is your neighbor really an idiot, or was she just having a bad day?  (Maybe her child or her mom has cancer. Find out.)

Here is a brief checklist to help you manage your judgements.

  1. If you notice yourself judging someone,  then just notice it. Don’t be mad at yourself, it is natural. But the victory is disrupting it. Instead, choose a new action. Go introduce yourself. Find common ground with them. Offer to help them with something. Buy them a muffin (if they like muffins).
  2. Ask yourself why you are judging them. Typically negative judgements come from your past. Maybe the person in front of you looks like a mean neighbor you had as a child. Consider where the judgement came from. It can be fascinating to discover where a judgement came from.
  3. Validate the judgement. Engage with the person you are judging in an effort to prove yourself wrong. Be curious about them. Ask questions. Be kind and have empathy. Most of the time you’ll discover they are not who you think they are.

So now that you have some basic skills, it’s time to take this to the next level. What if you take the steps above and discover the person really is nasty or mean, or not someone you want to associate with.

You’ll need some tools to handle that. Join Awesome Life Club and learn how to turn enemies into allies.