emotions interpersonal

Shifting towards non-judgment and objectivity

…and away from judgment and subjectivity.  Subjective statements are ones that involve opinion, judgment and ambiguity, objective statements are ones that involve specific use of facts as they are seen in that moment.

Subjective based conversation:

A: “He was very rude.”

B: “I didn’t think he was rude.”

A: “Of course he was, he’s such a jerk.”

B: “Its not like he was making monkey faces at her and calling her names.”

Each speaker is asserting opinions and the conversation could go on indefinitely, possibly leading to elevated emotions and more aggressive statements.

Objective based conversation:

A: “He made comments while she was speaking 7 times in the first ten minutes.”

B: “Oh you were keeping a close count on his interruptions.”

A very specific, non-judgmental observation is made and the conversationalists are in connection.

We often shorten and simplify things that we want to say as in the example “he’s rude” vs. “he made comments….”.  We do this for a variety of reasons but the end result is that, in leaving out the objective specifics, the message is distorted and charged with judgment. The trouble with judgments is they tend to fuel emotions, often righteousness in the speaker of the message and defensiveness in the receiver, and this is very effective in shutting down communication.  Another problem with judgments is they are subjective which makes it difficult to find common ground.

Being able to make objective observations without any judgment or evaluation is a valuable skill which takes self-awareness, attention both to the words being chosen, and a step back from that, attention to the emotions being experienced.  Intense emotions will drive the word choices away from objectivity.  Luckily it works both ways: choosing non-judgmental words can lower the intensity of overwhelming emotions.  Knowing yourself and your physical signs of heightened emotions is essential to being able to choose objective words.

The teachings of Nonviolent Communication emphasize the importance of being very specific, unambiguous, and dynamic in making observations and removing any evaluation or judgment to facilitate effective communication.  A couple examples that illustrate the difference between a subjective evaluation and an objective observation: “Jim is ugly” vs. “Jim’s looks don’t appeal to me.”, “You seldom do what I want” vs. “The last 3 times I initiated an activity you said you didn’t want to do it.”*   Can you tell which is which?  The evaluations could be seen as criticism causing hurt feelings or arguments, the observations are specific to the speaker and non-judgmental.  The importance of making this distinction is to raise the likelihood of the intended message being heard and having a clear and compassionate conversation.

Our language and culture sets us up to make frequents subjective evaluations so it is likely that you, dear reader, make such judgments throughout your day (just as I do), therefore, you have lots of opportunities to notice and practice shifting from the subjective evaluation to the objective observation.  As you do this notice how it impacts your mood and behavior.

Let me know what happens or share comments on my facebook page.

*These examples come from: Rosenberg, Marshall B., Nonviolent communication: A language of life, Puddledancer Press, 203; p 31