April 7, 2008

Good day, team,

Last week I traveled to Southern California to visit a client for a few days. On my early Tuesday morning flight, I found myself seated in a Bombardier aircraft, a small turbo prop that seats about 70 passengers. The seats line up in rows of two on either side of a central aisle and are extremely small.

I found myself sitting alone as the passengers filed in and gratefully began to realize that it was possible no one would sit next to me. “Ahhhh,” I thought. “I can stretch out and take a short nap.” Unfortunately, a large man got on the plane at the last minute and, since someone was sitting in his seat already, he chose to sit next to me.

I immediately went into judgment about the person who had taken the man’s seat: “Why do people do that? I never do that. Why don’t people consider the person whose seat they’ve just taken? What makes them exempt from following the rules like the rest of us?  Why do they think they’re special? Why doesn’t the flight attendant do something about it?”

Then, as the large man squeezed into the seat next to me, I realized that his body was taking up more room than his seat allowed, and I would have to move partly into the aisle to give him extra space. So I went into judgment about him too: “Why do large people book themselves on these kinds of airplanes? Someone should be making them take another flight on a regular-sized aircraft. Why did this guy have to pick the seat by me? Who let him just take any seat he wanted to? Someone should be in charge and make him sit in the back where there’s more room.”

As we settled uncomfortably into our seats, the man said something like, “Sorry, lady, but someone took my seat.”  I muttered something like, “Yeah, I don’t understand why people do that sort of thing.”

At this point, I tried to calm down. I was uncomfortable, angry and tired, and a thousand judgmental thoughts were racing through my head. Each one felt justified as I kept telling myself that the whole situation was someone else’s fault:  the jerk who took the man’s seat; the large man sitting next to me,  and the flight attendant who didn’t seem to care about any of us.

I tried focusing on my breathing as a way to calm down, and as I took my first, deep meditative breath, I realized the large man next to me smelled pretty awful. Well, that just fueled my anger—even breathing was not going to be the answer.

Then the man reached into his pocket, pulled out a tin of chewing tobacco and put a wad between his teeth and gums. That terrible aroma I was smelling was partly due to the tobacco. “Geez,” I thought. “I can’t believe I have to sit next to someone who has this disgusting habit. This is just gross!”

But worse than the physical discomfort was how miserable I felt because of my judgmental thoughts. Throughout the following week, I saw clearly how often I was overtaken by this state of judgment. Because my experience on the plane was so strong, it reminded me each time I judged another person how often it happens and how bad it makes me feel. In some cases, it affects my psychological state for hours, and I have to work hard to come back to a place of relative peace and tranquility.

Your challenge this week is to observe when you judge others. Then, try not to let the state overtake you. If you find yourself justifying your judgment, ask yourself, “Would I want to be judged so severely by the person I’m judging?” or “Am I so aware of all the factors that affect this person that I have a right to stand in judgment about who they are, what they do or how they do it?”

Maybe you work with someone whom you frequently have negative opinions about. Perhaps you can try to see what positive qualities this person brings to your team, and when your judgment arises, try thinking about those better qualities. When you notice yourself developing strong, negative thoughts about another person, ask yourself whether this attitude is helping you in the moment.  Perhaps you could turn your strong opinion into a question about the person. That speculation might give you a different way to view him or her and change your attitude.

None of likes to be judged by others. But this last week I also realized that being the judge feels pretty awful too. It’s not how I want to spend my time. This week, I’ve challenged myself to trade my judgment—my certainty about another person—for curiosity about what I don’t immediately see, a practice that serves me and other people better.

Have a great week!


Kathleen Doyle-White
Pathfinders Coaching
(503) 296-9249

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