Judgmental people in the workplace can make your life miserable.
A form of discrimination, judgmental behavior can have long-lasting adverse physical and mental health effects. And those sometimes hard-to-recognize snubs and put-downs couched in passive aggressive language that judgmental people dole out tend to be more common than overt examples of discrimination.
So, not only do you have to learn how to deal with judgmental co-workers, supervisors, and employees, you first need to recognize the signs of judgmental people.
What are the signs of a judgmental co-worker?
One of the warnings signs that your colleague might be judgmental is that they're kind of rude; they interrupt you. A lot. You might initially think it's just bad manners or they're a bit socially inept, but if you also see that they are pretty negative overall and have a pessimistic viewpoint, you may be in for some trouble.
The thing is, judgmental people can have great qualities, too, so unless their vitriol is directed at you, it can be easy to excuse their negative gossip about colleagues. Also, we like to believe the best about people. Unfortunately, it's only a matter of time until you're in the line of fire.
If you still haven't been at the receiving end of overly judgmental comments and unsolicited advice, other signs to look for include:
- Judgmental people aren't interested in empathizing. They make evaluations based on all-or-nothing thinking, and will judge a person by one action. That means you'd better not have a bad day or make a mistake when they're around.
- They're not objective, so they won't get the facts of a situation before passing judgment. Coupled with the fact that judgmental people usually don't trust anyone else, they'll quickly think the worst of you.
- Judgmental people are usually perfectionists and often have low self-esteem. If they make a mistake, it will be blown out of proportion and they will be extremely self-critical. In a way, they try to avoid this scenario by being critical of everyone else.
How do you deal with this behavior in the workplace?
If there's any truth to the unsolicited advice given by a judgy colleague, take that and discard the rest, if possible. It's hard not to take slights to heart, though, so you should probably keep your distance from that person as much as possible. If you have allowed yourself to become work friends, their negativity can impact you much more.
You can also confront them. Ask what they mean by a slighting gesture or inappropriate comment. Try to do so in front of other colleagues. Remember, they are bullies, and bullies are cowards.
If you need more reinforcement, invite your judgmental co-worker to discuss the matter with your team leader, direct report, or someone in HR. Their likely reaction will be to decline the offer and ignore you. It's not ideal, but at least you won't be subjected to harassment in the future.
How do you deal with a judgmental boss?
While you can try the same approaches if the judgmental person is your boss, the situation is admittedly trickier.
If you're too unnerved to schedule an appointment to discuss the issue with your boss, ask the human resources department manager to get involved. Have a meeting with them first to go over what's been happening. An objective point of view can be invaluable here. Then you can have a three-way discussion. Hopefully your boss is either unaware of their behavior or lacks training; but is, in both cases, willing to change.
If your boss denies being overly judgmental and is obviously not willing to change, you may have to look for a transfer within the company or look for a new job. But if leaving isn't a possibility for you at the moment, don't forget the power of having an inner circle to support you.
"The thing is, judgmental people can have great qualities too, so unless their vitriol is directed at you, it can be easy to excuse their negative gossip about colleagues."
What if you're the boss?
We asked Cathy Areu about this. The magazine editor, educator, and TV journalist has been at the receiving end of judgmental people in the workplace as co-worker, employee, and boss -- and she just doesn't get it.
"When I know I've done a good job, my best work, and it's just not good enough for some reason, I'm being judged on a level I'm not familiar with. If I'm not being judged on a job well done, then what the heck am I being judged on?"
When she taught high school journalism, Areu says her fellow teachers judged her because of her age. "How could a young teacher get an honors-level journalism class her first year in the classroom?" The fact that Areu was the only one with a master of education degree and also had a background in print journalism didn't seem to allay the jealousy-induced judgmental attitude.
You'd think it would be better as a boss, but unfortunately that's not always the case -- and it's not always the employees who give attitude.
"As a magazine owner, I was judged as the only Latina CEO in the room running a multimedia company," Areu explains. "Most of the men approached my male employees and spoke to them about the business while ignoring me. Again, I was judged for no good reason. I just happened to be 5 foot 2 inches, female, and in my 30s."
And how does a CEO deal with it?
"As a boss, I try to beat the judgmental people of the world by doing all of the work my industry requires better than those around me. I know I have to be smarter, quicker, and all around better to beat the naysayers. I have to be Ginger Rogers: Do what a Fred Astaire could do, but backwards with heels on. That beats the judgmental people every time!"