Are You Opinionated or Judgmental? A quiz.

You’re talking to your daughter on the phone and she tells you that her boyfriend bought her a printer for her birthday. Do you jump in and say: “How could he give you something electronic? What ever happened to flowers, jewelry or at least candy?”

Judgmental or opinionated?  

Your friend orders eel at a sushi restaurant. You roll your eyes and when the sushi arrives, you make a face and say: “Yuck, not for me.”  

Judgmental or opinionated?  

You eat at an upscale NYC diner and order a grilled cheese sandwich with fries. A friend asks what you ate for lunch that day. When you say, “grilled cheese on rye and fries,” she frowns and says with disdain, “Interesting.” The implication is: how can you eat something so fattening and unhealthy? You get the drift. 

Really Judgmental or opinionated?  

You need to redo the master bathroom in the home you bought and the budget is tight. You tell a friend that you’d love a kitchen remodel, too. And she says: “Really? Do you really need to spend that on your house?” 

Even more judgmental or more opinionated?  

You’ve met a wonderful man and take him to a party to introduce him to everyone for the first time. Later you ask a few of your friends: What did you think of him? Thank goodness you only hear positive, glowing reports.

Judgmental or opinionated? Who cares in that case since you wanted only positive sharing.  

There’s a huge difference we’ve learned through the years about expressing opinions rather than judgments. Opinion is milder and about how you feel. It’s not so much criticism based on what matters to you. Moreover, judgments should only be offered when you’ve first prefaced your remarks with: “I want to ask your opinion.” You’re asking for it whether positive, negative or whatever! 

Most of us are “guilty” of uttering both sets of views; we certainly are at times. Many of us, like Barbara, have strong opinions. She considers herself an opinionated New Yorker despite her long stay in the Midwest. And her views emerge most about her passions regarding politics, equality for women, restaurants that serve good food, museum architecture and starachitect additions, art exhibits and what friends should ask others about and what they say. 

But she tries to avoid being judgmental and having others weigh in on family matters and some of her personal decisions that she’s thought long and hard about and even run them by her daughters or very closest friends. These include moving to a small farm town, dating a lot on the Internet after her divorce, how she cares for her aging mother, who she decided to use for surgery for her broken bones in her arm and so on. 

The list of what people feel they can say freely about her life—and others’ lives—she has found has increased exponentially. While she doesn’t want friends to feel they have to walk on eggshells, there are certain subjects she cares not to discuss at least now and with just anyone. Her innermost circle is different since she’s often likely to seek their counsel, experience, wisdom and compassion.

To help her in some tough situations, her beau has come up with two good responses she can offer. One is based on what he heard Secretary of State Rex Tillerson say regarding his disagreements with President Trump, “Why don’t we not deal in such minutiae.” Another good response he heard comes from actress Julianna Margulies’ character in the former TV show The Good Wife.  She was advised to reply about certain personal matters, “I’ll get back to you,” and then she might or might not. 

Margaret believes we all have opinions that should be kept to ourselves—unless asked. This applies to everything from how someone looks to political opinions in these precarious times. Judgments slip out unwittingly, however. When she talks to her three grown children she tries not to comment on their choices. But we all know how difficult that can be. When people told her what they thought of a mentoring gig she’s doing in her city, the responses ran from “good for you to aren’t you afraid to drive into the city?” Who asked! she thought but kept it to herself. When Margaret gave money to a homeless street person and wrote a blog about it, one person commented that she liked the blog but didn’t agree with her final decision to give money. And recently when she made her hair color a little darker, some gave her a querulous look and then said without being asked: “Why so dark? I like it lighter.”  

So we’ve come up with some suggestions to catapult over the judgmental hurdle, and we are trying ourselves to observe them better:

  • State your opinions clearly using an “I” statement such as “I believe in the importance of giving to worthy causes” or “I really think there’s still need for women’s colleges because….” Same with the Boy Scouts: Should girls join? And avoid opinions with certain folks where you know it will trigger a major reaction. It’s great to listen to others’ beliefs but with some there’s really no point if you can’t keep the conversation calm and flowing as has happened with some nowadays re: political discussions.
  • Try hard to avoid any judgmental comments that start with “You.” Rather than say, “Aren’t you upset that your son has agreed to raise his children Buddhist when he was brought up Catholic?” we suggest keeping it to the “I” reply mentioned above. Example: “I really hope my grandchildren will be raised in our Lutheran faith, but I know that may not be possible.” And then stop so you don’t become dragged into defense mode. Or when Margaret announced in a hamburger place that she doesn’t eat red meat, the looks from her friends could kill. They commented unsolicited, “When did you decide on this?” She didn’t answer, merely changed the subject and ordered a chicken sandwich. (Delicious by the way.) It’s called deflection or do not engage. Cut the critics off at the pass.
  • Here’s another way to deflect a judgment. When someone says to you, as someone said to Barbara several years back,” It’s too bad you put on some extra pounds,” she smiled, and agreed, “Yes, it is.” That stopped the conversation right then and there versus going into attack mode with: “How could you be so mean to say that?” Another tool: consider calling on humor. It invalidates or diffuses their judgments in many cases such as: “Yes, soon I’ll resemble the butterball turkey.” 

Remember that facts are hard to argue with these days because they easily can be checked on Google right then and there. We advise saving opinions for what really matters like what’s the best way to prepare a boeuf bourguignon in the dead of winter. Well, maybe not, because you might be asking a vegetarian or vegan. How about what’s the best type of chocolates to buy someone for Valentine’s Day—dark or milk and with or without nuts? At least, you’ll have a lively discussion. Let us know how you deal with all!


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