Scrolling through your Facebook feed, you pause to read a lengthy post from a friend expressing her opinion about a recent political move. Likes, reactions, and comments are adding up fast as a lively debate begins.
You think, Wow, I can’t believe she posted that. I didn’t know she thought that way. Why would she share that so publicly? Having judged your friend, you consider commenting but decide against it. You continue scrolling, perhaps unaware of the subtle influence it has made on your relationship.
Social media has transformed the way we interact with and learn about others, encouraging frank discussion from politics to pop culture. A 2016 survey of more than 1,000 Americans revealed that 50 percent of respondents shared an opinion on social media about a presidential candidate.
While empowering open dialogue, social media also plays host to futile debates that can harm real-life relationships. Another survey found that 2 in 5 people have unfriended or blocked family members, friends, or coworkers as a result of online hostility. And 19 percent have avoided seeing others in person because of something they said online.
Joseph Grenny, co-author of the New York Times bestseller Crucial Conversations, reflects, “Sadly, [social media platforms] have become the default forums for holding high-stakes conversations, blasting polarizing opinions, and making statements with little regard for those within screenshot.”
Holding emotional conversations online removes our chance to interpret reactions and see the impact—good or bad—of our words. Here are a few tips to stop the judgmental voice in your head and engage with consideration.
01. Have empathy for others’ authentic experiences.
Our beliefs and actions are shaped by our life experiences and environment. Before passing judgment based on a single tweet or share, remember that you don't have the full picture of the person’s motive or mentality.
Carl Rogers, an American psychologist who introduced non-judgmental psychology, advocated for keeping an outlook of "unconditional positive regard" for patients. Rogers explained, “It means that there are no conditions of acceptance, no feeling of ‘I like you only if you are thus and so.’” We should do the same and accept others rather than evaluate them. Perhaps this person is struggling with something causing them to instigate on social media—you never know. Be sensitive to the unknown.
02. Separate the behavior from the person.
You can judge the behavior, but don’t judge the person. Separating the action—posting something you disagree with—from the actor—the friend posting it—helps you appreciate others despite your differences.
Anne Grady, an internationally recognized speaker, author and consultant, shares in her book Strong Enough: Choosing Courage, Resilience, and Triumph, that we err in "our tendency to judge others by their behavior and assign it to their character, but to judge ourselves by our intent. Essentially, we blame. We make assumptions about people’s motives.” We have our own convictions about what is right, but we can’t impose them on others.
03. Pause to reflect before engaging.
Don’t let your emotions take over. Stop to think before you react, either by judging or engaging. When something makes our tempers rise, it’s best to step back to differentiate between judging and disagreeing.
Life coach Elouise Taylor tells Verily, “We can learn something from reading different perspectives. Recognize that disagreeing and being judgmental are two different things. Disagreeing without judgement is the foundation of intelligent, informed debate.” The ease and immediacy of social media lets us express in-the-moment sentiments that we may not have spoken aloud in another situation.
04. Always seek the good.
Instead of dwelling on your negative thoughts, shift your focus on the positive. Maybe your friend is more prone to post things you disagree with on Facebook, but she probably has many great qualities. And no one is perfect! It’s much easier to condemn others than look inward at our own flaws.
Psychologist Dr. Michele Leno advises, “Assess your own life and decide if there are aspects of it that others could harshly judge.” Is our judgment coming from a place of hurt, insecurity, or jealousy? Mental health author Nancy Virden tells Verily, “Question your judgments of others by holding them up to the mental mirror. You'll be able to see right through them to the reality of your own imperfections.”
05. Take the conversation offline.
Virden continues, “We want to think we are in-the-know, however social media never allows us the whole story. People post summaries based on moments. Unless you are intimately privy to their previous and following moments, your judgment is based on your imagination.” If you truly want to understand the other person’s stance or share your perspective, ask to continue the conversation offline. You’ll have the benefit of body language and a real-time dialogue to hold an honest and respectful discussion that you can both learn from.
Judging is often subconscious; we may not realize we’re doing it. But once you start to recognize that judgmental voice in your head, you can strive to silence it. If you can come to appreciate and understand the perspectives of others, no matter how divergent from your own, your frame of reference will be that much richer.
Photo Credit: Marlena Pearl Photography