A Coaching Power Tool By Dana Wu, Career Coach, UNITED STATES
What Is the Difference Between Judgment vs. Curiosity
I created a power tool to support clients to shift from judgment to curiosity.
According to the Oxford dictionary, judgment is ‘an opinion or conclusion’ and curiosity is a strong desire to know or learn something.
What Is Judgment?
When we’re in judgment, we’re often focused on the flaws of others.
We may obsess about how others are doing things wrong, or making things harder for us. It’s a self-righteous feeling, that we wish others could see our perspective, the ‘right’ perspective, and that it would make life so much easier.
The feeling of judgment often comes up in work environments, where complex projects involve collaborating with coworkers who have differing goals. When each coworker is optimizing for a different set of outcomes, conflict can arise, and negotiating a positive outcome for all parties may be needed.
When we’re in judgment, we’re so focused on how others should change, or should be, that it can be challenging. We may deem a coworker ‘incompetent’ instead of ‘lacking a skill set that can be learned.
In judgment, things feel fixed, and not likely to change. There’s a rigid quality to being in judgment. For example, we may conclude a coworker is ‘lazy’ instead of ‘lacking information.
Another way judgment can show up is when we feel things ‘should’ be a certain way.
So negative emotions tend to arise from judgment. We tend to put ourselves in a passive, helpless role as a result.
Sometimes we may judge ourselves. Negative judgments of ourselves may bring up feelings of hopelessness.
Judgments can block our ability to be curious about the matter at hand.
What Is Curiosity?
When we’re curiosity, we’re asking questions, which puts us in taking an active role so we’re in charge. We’re empowered.
We keep an open mind and are receptive to hearing the perspective of others. An open mind allows more possibilities in terms of what the problems and solutions may be.
Rather than judging or blaming others, we ask questions to uncover the challenges at hand. In a curious state, we’re likely to ask more questions which can be helpful in moving forward.
Staying curiosity helps us stay calm. It allows us to be neutral, see things more objectively, and give others the benefit of the doubt. This naturally helps us stay empathetic towards others. So being curious helps us keep positive energy.
In fact, curiosity can help people become happier. As Britannica puts it, ‘Researchers have determined that dopamine, the brain’s reward chemical, is intricately linked to the brain’s curiosity state 1. When you explore and satisfy your curiosity, your brain floods your body with dopamine, which makes you feel happier.’
When we’re in a curious state, we’re flexible. Situations are more nuanced and less black and white. Curiosity invites exploration.
To summarize, curiosity increases empathy, flexibility of mind, and happiness, and empowers us to be in control of our lives.
out of control
target of negative energy
source of positive energy
Exploring Judgment vs. Curiosity
The way to apply this power tool is to explore how judgment is showing up with the client. By looking through the frame of judgment v. curiosity, the client may gain awareness that what felt like facts are actually judgments. The awareness can then move clients to try on a more curious perspective and see how the challenges at hand shifts.
Some questions to help our client shift from judgment to curiosity might be:
- What’s really going on for you?
- What judgments do you notice?
- What’s the impact of these judgments on you moving forward?
- What assumptions am I making?
- What does being curious right now look like?
- How might being curious right now benefit me?
- What other perspectives are there?
- What do you want?
- What’s possible for you?
- What’s in your control?
- What else?
For example, a client may start by saying their goal is ‘too hard. Through coaching, the client may realize that it’s not a fact and more of a judgment. It may be uncovered that the client is fearing failure. When attention is put on how to make steps towards the goal instead of possible failure, the client may allow curiosity to pull him forward.
Another example is a client who may be struggling with social anxiety, let’s say, with meeting someone new. Some judgments like ‘I’m boring’ or ‘I don’t know how to talk to people can make the client feel stuck. Through coaching the client may be asked what talking to others is important to him/her. When the client focuses on what they’re curious about in the new person, it can help melt away the judgments because the focus has shifted.
Take the scenario of a client who is a parent struggling with a toddler’s tantrums. It can be easy for the client to judge that the child is ‘spoiled’ or ‘giving me a hard time. This may lead to wanting to punish a child. However, if the client gets curious, they may uncover the underlying reasons why a toddler is tantruming. Perhaps the child needs more rest, more food. Perhaps the client may upon reflection realize the tantrums cause a lot of discomforts that need to be worked through.
These examples show the power of curiosity as a power tool for use during coaching.
Oxford Dictionary. Judgment. Retrieved August 25, 2021.
Oxford Dictionary. Curiosity. Retrieved August 25, 2021.
The Science of Curiosity Accessed August 28, 2021
4 Reasons Why Curiosity is Important and How to Develop It Accessed August 28, 2021
Six Surprising Benefits of Curiosity Accessed August 28, 2021