It is a special gift to bring a non-judgmental presence into the room with you. When we’re in conflict that’s been going on for a while, we already feel judged enough. Judged by our conflict partner. Judged by those who have watched it unfold, such as co-workers, managers, family members. Judged by ourselves, late at night when the darkness amplifies what weighs on our mind.
If you’re trying to help others resolve a conflict (maybe you’re a mediator, a friend, an HR manager), there is little need to add your own harsh judgment to the mix, regardless of who that judgment is aimed at.
The air is already heavy with it, so why not do something that helps lighten the cloud cover?
Un-purse those Church Lady lips. Unclasp those hands that remind us of a trial judge. Put down that pen you’ve been using to tap your pad of paper impatiently. Unfold your judgmental arms that evoke the principal’s office. Shake off that holier-than-thou mantle.
If someone’s acting badly, instead of shaking your head at their behavior, remind yourself that they’re probably doing the best they can at that moment. They didn’t get up that morning and say to themselves, “I want to act badly in front of my spouse/boss/mediator today.” Instead of asking yourself, “How can I get them to stop doing that irritating thing?” ask yourself, “What do they need right now that would help their better self return to the conversation?”
If someone’s being obstinate, refusing to budge in their position, consider what you’ve missed. Instead of asking yourself, “How do I get them to do X?” ask yourself (and them), “What’s important to you here that we’re not yet addressing?”
If they’re doing the something that gets under your skin, remember that your hot buttons — I prefer to call them conflict hooks — are your own, not theirs. If you didn’t have them, they wouldn’t be able to press them. So instead of asking, “How do I get them to stop being so irritating?” ask yourself, “What is it about what they’re doing that’s bruising how I see myself?” and “How do I unhook myself?”
It is a special gift to bring a non-judgmental presence into the room because so few do it. It is a special gift because when you remind yourself that’s an equal human in front of you, you stop having to feign empathy and you start really experiencing it.