How to Become a Better Judge of Character
I place high value on congruent living. I strive for consistent alignment in my thoughts, words, actions and values. Like a beautiful puzzle, all four pieces must fit.
To assess whether something is in alignment with your core principles requires some measure of wisdom and judgment. If you’re unsure of possessing either quality, you might be happy to know that wisdom and judgment can be cultivated.
When we were young, our view of the world is absolute. Our youthful arrogance only permits us to see things in black and white. As we grow in experience – a combination of having been softened by our failures and setbacks, walking in others’ shoes, compassion for others’ shortcomings - we develop tolerance, and along with tolerance, is the greater acceptance of the world awash in gray.
Gray areas are tough to define, difficult to judge and in some cases, beyond our wisdom. Wisdom has less to do with age and quantity of experience. As one recent study from a Wharton psychology professor indicates, wisdom is qualitative and can be cultivated. I’m heartened by this news. It means I don’t have to live to be a hundred and go through thousands of tribulations to be wise. Wisdom is gain through the quality of our lessons, what we took from the experience, rather than the experience itself.
What we gain by being a good judge of character
The highest form of currency is trust. Trust is what we earn by being a person of good character. Trust builds and gives strength to relationships but is extremely fragile. Trust can make or break reputations. Bear in mind that reputation is perception often outside your control. It’s better to manage your character.
One final word about trust. It would be impossible to connect with another human being in a deep, meaningful way without the presence of trust. The reward for being a good judge of character is letting the right kind of people into your life.
Am I a bad judge of character?
But how can you know you’re a good judge of character? I’ll answer that by telling you what being a bad judge of character feels like. You will let in the wrong kind of people, and they will make you feel:
- Taken advantage of or taken for granted.
- That you must change or apologize for who you are.
- That you are not enough.
How do I know that I’m not just being judgmental?
The short answer is: You won’t be able to avoid this. In the act of deciding if something is this or that, you are passing judgment. The concern behind this question is, am I being intolerant, unfair and unkind in my assessment of this person? This checklist may help:
- Give someone the benefit of the doubt. Assume good intent until they prove otherwise.
- Recognize they are human. If someone has a good track record with me but messed up for the first time, I cut them some slack. I even forgive the second and third time if the offense is not the same.
- Check in with people whose judgment you trust to rule out any biases.
What makes a good character?
The list below is far from comprehensive but it’s one I called upon when I decide on someone’s character. There is no science behind this. Judging someone’s character is more of an art.
- Having a healthy relationship with you is important to them.
- Because they have a healthy amount of self-respect, respect is high on their list and earning your respect is important to them.
- If they messed up, they recognize their actions carry consequences. They accept that you may not be able to forgive them but they “manned up” by letting you know that they messed up.
- They are genuinely sorry that their behavior caused you undue grievance; they are not only sorry because they are caught or that they stand to lose something from the relationship. Read this article on the Art of a Political Apology, an insightful analysis by a professor of linguistics.
- Earning your trust is important to them. If they messed up, they are willing to earn it back. It doesn’t stop with a recognition of their wrongdoing or an apology, they are willing to put in the time and the work to earn back your trust.
Your turn: Are you a good judge of character? If so, what would you add to this list?