The business world is fantastic. It's also challenging. Over the course of your career, you'll face ethical, cultural, political, and personal dilemmas in the workplace. You'll work with difficult people. You'll find yourself in compromising situations. You'll have to balance who you are as an individual with what your employer asks of you.
Can you stay true to who you are without sacrificing your success? Absolutely YES.
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Being Judged

Feel Like Others At Work 
Are Judging You?
(Spoiler Alert:  They are.)

“Don't try to win over the haters; 
you are not a jackass whisperer.” 
                              Brené Brown

I don't know a single person who likes being judged. 

I know I don't. 

As it turns out... too bad. We're judged all the time, whether we like it or not. In the workplace, judgment comes fast and furious from every angle. Our co-workers, our bosses, our staff, our customers, our vendors, our partners - they all make judgments about us.

We're judged not only for what we do, but how we do it. Others form opinions about who we are, what we stand for, how we dress, and the company we keep even if they don't work closely with us. Everything about us is subject to judgment at work. 

It should make us feel better that everyone else is being judged too. If we're honest, we're judging others just as quickly as they judge us. The co-worker who's lazy. The boss who doesn't get it. The peer who's dishonest. We just like it better when we're the judge vs. the one being judged. Why? Because when we're judged, we're uncomfortable. We feel exposed and vulnerable. And not without good reason. Judgments can hurt us personally, and damage our careers professionally.

We want everyone to like us, respect us, endorse us, and support our success. The fact is, it will never happen. There will always be people who aren't in our corner. We can be sad about it. We can get angry, defiant, and blame others. Or we can try to stop negative judgments from happening in the first place, and learn how to overcome them when they surface anyway. Guess which option serves you best?

     How do you avoid and overcome negative judgment at work?

How To Avoid Negative Judgments

One of life's hard truths is that others will judge us. At work, these judgments can impact our success and satisfaction if we're not careful. We can't control what people choose to believe, but we can influence perceptions before and after the fact. We may never know what someone really thinks of us or says about us when we're not in the room. It's still worth the effort to avoid and overcome judgments the best we can.

The foundation for avoiding negative judgment at work... is to do good work, of course. But you've heard me talk a lot about that in the past. So here we'll focus on what else you can do to avoid judgment, in addition to showing up and delivering the goods.

1.  Don't Play To Extremes.

A big part of being successful at work is being accepted, fitting in, and working well with others. I'm a strong proponent of being authentic and letting people get to know the real you at work. It's always best to showcase your strengths and interact with others in a way that's genuine. That said, you have to adapt to the culture of your work environment and be someone who can relate to others (and be related to) if you want to avoid negative judgments in the workplace. It helps to avoid extremes. Find the middle ground instead. Here's what I mean via a few examples:
  • Intelligence:  Be smart when it matters. Don't try to be the smartest person in the room every time. Pick your occasions to shine. At the opposite extreme, don't stay quiet because you think others may not accept your ideas. Take a risk and speak up when it matters.  Share your ideas when they're good and when your voice needs to be heard. Not always, not never. 
  • Personality:  Be the right amount of personable. Don't be the person who shares every detail of your weekend adventures with anyone who will listen. But don't be the person who quickly averts your eyes when someone walks up to the coffee machine, just so you don't have to talk to them. Be interesting, but leave a little mystery when it comes to your personal life. Don't share it all, but don't isolate yourself. 
  • Attention: Be appropriate to your situation. Imagine you're in a meeting. One person walks in the room with great fanfare and a lot of noise without regard for what's already happening in the room. Disruptive. Another slips in quietly and takes a seat in the back of the room. Invisible. Don't play to extremes. Make your entrance, quickly assess the dynamic in the room, and engage with people in a way that makes sense. Don't showboat. Don't be insignificant. 
  • Style: If your office is business casual, don't step too far out of line one way or the other. Don't show up in a suit, but don't wear flip flops either. Dress it up a bit if you're looking for a promotion or if your position requires it, but don't be so mismatched with your peers that you don't fit in. (I've made this mistake and it invites all kinds of senseless judgment and gets in the way of being taken seriously.) Don't overdo it. But never look like a mess. 
Bottom line:  Stand out for your performance, always. When it comes to social aspects of the job, and how you interact with others, simply avoid extremes. Don't be bland. Add a little salt, pepper, and spice. Just lay off the hot sauce.

2.  Mind The Gap: Watch Your Motives and Agendas.

The phrase "Mind the gap." originated in the train stations in London. It speaks to watching out for the gap between the platform and train as you board. Brené Brown, author of Dare Greatly, uses this phrase to reference the space between where you are today and where you want to be. 

Minding the gap is helpful when you think about judgment for this reason. A lot of the decisions you make (and actions you take) over the course of your career are driven by what you want vs. what you have today. Your choices will at times be clouded by ambition, perceptions of fairness, or assumptions about others. You may try to gain favor with someone who can help your career. Or you may agree with the opinions of others to avoid standing out, even though you disagree. We all do this to a certain degree at different times, usually without even knowing it.

If you interact with others by focusing on either a) something you want or b) something you don't have today, you'll have a hard time earning respect. People will assume you have motives for everything you do (which may or may not be true) and they won't trust you. Worse yet, they'll probably hide the fact that they don't trust you (after all, they don't trust you). You'll never know you're being judged as having ulterior motives or an agenda. Normally this presents itself as someone who thinks, acts, and talks differently depending on who they're with at the time.

Bottom line:  Want more than you have. Just be careful not to have a hidden agenda in conversations or interactions. The best way to tell if you're minding the gap:  Do you relate consistently with people throughout your organization, regardless of who they are, how they rank, or whether or not they can help your career?  If yes, bravo. If no, prepare to be judged. People are more perceptive than you think.

3.  Give It To Get It.

It's hard to remember the first time I heard the golden rule:  Do unto others, as you'd have them do unto you. Whether you heard this in church or in school, it's likely you heard it early in life too. It makes so much sense. And yet, we're actually pretty bad at this as a general rule. Never is that more true than in the workplace. The workplace tends to bring out the worst in us. We're being told what do to, we face competition for our livelihood, and we're vulnerable through constant pass/fail and better/worse comparisons.

You may get angry when someone treats you with disrespect, and understandably so. But many times, you don't necessarily respect that person either. Just listen to what you say about the other person as you tell your story to a friend or colleague. (Chances are it isn't a story of respect.) You may get mad when information isn't shared with you, but if you stop and think about it, you'd probably tell at least one other person what you learned, even if someone asked you not to. (And that person would tell, and that person would tell...) You're likely very frustrated when someone won't hear you, but it could be that you were so in love with your own opinion that you didn't fully hear the other person either.

Bottom line: You have to give it to get it. Treat other people the way you want to be treated. If you want respect, show it. If you want kindness or empathy, give it. If you want to be trusted, be trustworthy. If you want a raise, earn it. And so on. If you're not getting something you want, take a look at what you're giving.

Overcoming Negative Judgments

I wish I could tell you it's possible to avoid negative judgment at work, but of course that isn't true. This isn't a fairy tale and you aren't working in a magical kingdom of goodness. People will always judge you. The trick comes in balancing the scales to your favor, and doing it on your own terms.

You can certainty make a run at the "compliance" approach, trying to make everyone happy. Do the right things, say the right things, be the right kind of person to gain favor. If you choose this approach, I'm happy to pass the milk so you can eat your soul for breakfast. Be prepared for a long, grueling, and largely unsatisfying effort. You can't make everyone happy. For that matter, you can't make anyone happy but yourself.

What I recommend instead is to follow the guidelines above, all while doing great work. Fit in, be genuine, and set a good example. Judgments will still be made, but they'll probably be superficial and founded in fear, jealousy, or spite. Those types of judgments don't stand up well to someone who delivers solid results and works well within the company's culture. People may play along for a bit, but they'll grow tired of judgments that don't ring true.

If something gains traction and doesn't feel like it will go away, your best bet is almost always to raise the concern. It takes a little diplomacy and a calm approach, but it works well almost every time. Approach the person you feel is judging you unfairly, even if it's your boss. The conversation can start something like this:
"I've been struggling a little bit with this feeling that you have a negative perception of me. I feel like I'm focused on the right things, working hard, and getting good results. I've gotten positive feedback on my performance. I have good working relationships in the organization. But I get a sense that something isn't sitting well with you. I'd really like to know if I've done something to disappoint you or offend you in anyway.  I want a positive and productive working relationship with you. Can we talk for a couple of minutes? I'd like to hear your perspective. I'd appreciate your feedback."
If you're rolling your eyes, trust me when I say that I get that. These conversations are the worst. But so is having a judgment that isn't fair take root in your organization and impact your success. One hard conversation may turn someone around, so they stop judging you and start supporting you. Unfortunately, the types of people who form judgments based on fear or jealousy often have influence and potential in an organization (otherwise they wouldn't care.) Their opinion may matter more than you'd like to admit.

Your success with this type of turnaround is impacted by two key factors. First, your intention to learn and understand has to be clear. Maybe the judgment isn't unfair; you have to be open to hearing the other person's perspective. Second, you have to be willing to go deep to try and resolve whatever issue exists. Remember - you have to give it to get it. If you can't show respect for the other person's perspective in this discussion, don't have it. 

In the end, you have to choose if someone's perspective is worth considering or if they're off point. Hear them and decide for yourself. The quote at the start of this article is good to remember as well:  "Don't try to win over the haters: you are not a jackass whisperer." (Brené Brown, 2013.)

Bottom Line

I don't like being judged. I'm guessing you don't like it either. Accepting that judgments happen every day is a little liberating. Trying to be perfect, to gain favor, to avoid vulnerability - it's all exhausting. And even after all that effort, someone will judge you for being perfect.

As I look back on times when I've been judged at work, I realize a few things. First, I could've been much more comfortable with the fact that it isn't my place to worry about what other people believe to be true about me. It's important to live my own truth and let other people live theirs. Second, I sure could've made myself less of a target at times. Third, I could've responded better when judgments were made. And fourth, without a doubt, I could have given more of what I wanted to get in return. Hence my advice to you here.

Avoid extremes in the workplace. Be unique, but fit in. Mind the gap between where you are today and where you want to be. Be conscious of your motives and consistent in your interactions. Demonstrate the kind of behavior you want to see reflected back to you. You'll be surprised what a game-changer it can be.

It seems like I should include something about those in glass houses not throwing stones, but I'm guessing you've already learned that lesson more than once. I know I have.

More soon,

PS:  If you liked what you read here, please share it using one of the buttons below. And let me know what you think about judgments in the workplace. Have you ever felt judged by others? Share what worked for you - or what didn't. What would you say today to someone who has judged you harshly in the past? Do you find yourself judging others? How have you been able to break the habit?