Judging People: A Scientific Approach Part 2 – Why Our Way Is Stupid

In our previous discussion, Judging People: A Scientific Approach Part 1 – Our Stupid Way Of Judging People, we dissected our thought process when we observe and judge other people. If you have not done so already, I encourage you to read Part 1 before continuing.

In this article we uncover the fundamental flaw of our current method. A link to Part 3 is provided at the end of this article.

Why Our Way is Stupid

If it is not obvious already, our method for judging people is very flawed. Instead of discussing every detail, however, let’s cut to the chase and tackle the major fundamental issue:

The way we judge people is flawed because we tend to judge based on isolated incidences instead of patterns of behavior.

What does this mean? It means that we take one instance in time, one observation, one word, one smell, one smile, one comment, or one look (Zoolander anyone?) and assume that particular observation is an accurate representation of all possible observations we could ever have of a person.

We assume the person is in a normal state. If a person makes a comment, we assume the person always makes such types of comments. We assume that a person’s present attitude is the attitude the person always has.

Essentially, we assume our single observation accurately represents a person under all circumstances. And then we judge the person based on an isolated incident.

Judging people this way is limiting and creates barriers in our relationships.

Don’t you ever have a bad day? Don’t you ever put your foot in your mouth? Don’t you ever wake up on the wrong side of the bed? I sure do; but those sporadic incidences certainly do not define who I am.

I’m not usually grumpy or inconsiderate or mean; but sometimes stuff comes out of my mouth and expressions appear on my face that don’t communicate the best of me.

It happens. It’s called being a human.

Other people are humans, too. There is not a single person on this planet that has never said or done something ignorant or offensive. There is not a single person that has never mistakenly merged into the wrong lane on the highway, complained aloud about another person, or said something hurtful to someone they love.

Now, being human never justifies being a jerk. But can’t we cut each other a little slack? Especially if that ignorant comment, grumpy attitude, or offensive scowl isn’t part of our usual personality?

We must develop a better way of interpreting other people’s words and actions in order to grow in our thinking and grow in our relationships. Practicing a better way of judging people helps us evolve as humans and ensures a better future.

To develop and practice a better way of thinking and judging, we can look to some of the world’s most evolved thinkers and learn from their methods.

Who are some of the best thinkers in the world? Scientists and engineers.

Scientists and engineers look at the world with a critical and enthusiastic eye. Over the years, these brainiacs have developed methods for thinking and reasoning that help people understand how the world works and solve many societal problems. We all can learn a lot from these super-thinkers and apply their thinking methods to our everyday lives.

Let’s take a quick look at how scientists and engineers think and make conclusions about how the world works. Please bear with me for a few minutes, and I’ll show you the parallels and differences between our stupid way of judging people and these two sophisticated ways of thinking.

(I promise I won’t nerd-out too hard. I’ve revised this article roughly 12 times to make sure it’s not too geeky. You’re welcome.)

How Scientists Think

The scientific method is a system for figuring out how the world works. It is said to originate way back in the day when philosophers, especially Aristotle, were the leaders in explaining natural phenomenon. The method evolved since then and is used as the primary means to explain how the world works and justify decision-making.

The scientific method consists of three major phases:

1. Thinking – lots of observing, research, and forming a hypothesis

2. Experimenting – carefully designing ways to test the hypothesis and analyze data

3. Communicating – sharing the results of the experiments and providing context to why it is important or interesting

There are plenty more details, but the basic premise is this: Scientists start with an observation, become curious about the observation, and ask questions. They ask a bunch of how, why, and what questions that drive them to research the observation more thoroughly.

After studying all aspects of the observation, they form a hypothesis, which is a statement that attempts to explain the observation. The hypothesis is also a statement that can be tested; so, scientists design experiments to test the hypothesis and collect data. Scientists then analyze the data and evaluate its meaning.

After much scrutiny, conclusions are made that help explain the original observation, which often lead to more questions. After this process is repeated many times, generalizations or theories are developed.

Results from this process are usually shared with the rest of the scientific community. Other scientists are able to review the hypothesis, experiments, and conclusions to assess the validity, meaning, and ask more questions. Scientists are also able to replicate the process in order to help confirm the results.

How Engineers Think

Now, scientists are known for uncovering how the world works. Engineers are known for creating, designing, and solving problems. Scientists and engineers are oftentimes on the same team; but because their end-goals are different, engineers use a different model for thinking and research.

The engineering design method has the following phases:

1. Thinking – determining what problems in the world need to be solved

2. Designing solutions – brainstorming and testing solutions to the problem

3. Communicating – sharing the solutions with others so that the world can benefit

Engineers observe how the world works and determine if and where there are any problems that need to be solved. Like scientists, engineers research their observation to fully understand the nature of the problem. Then, engineers identify and define constraints and requirements of the problem (e.g., budget, materials needed, end-use, upgradability, and so on).

After brainstorming a bunch of solutions, engineers choose an optimal solution given all the constraints and requirements. They test the solution by designing a prototype and conducting a trial-run. Then, the final design is implemented on a larger scale for all to use.

Parallels To Our Stupid Way Of Judging People

There are some commonalities among our stupid way of judging people and the scientific method and engineering design method. These similarities are as follows:

1. We all observe. We notice something, and it captures our attention.

2. We all make conclusions. This occurs either at the end of our process or sometime after making the observation.

3. We all scale-up, generalize, or form theories. These theories are used for all subsequent observations and conclusions.

Differences In Our Stupid Way Of Judging People

Now for the differences. Here are the areas where we are lacking:

1. We don’t ask questions. When we observe someone, we usually aren’t curious about their behavior. Instead, we make it personal and jump right to the judging part; and we judge the person based on how we feel about ourselves.

→ Scientists and engineers do not take their observations personally. Instead, they become curious as why, what, and how the observation occurred.

2. We do not conduct background research. Again, we make it personal and pass judgements only after comparing the observation to ourselves.

→ Scientists and engineers keep an open mind and work hard to understand the observation before making any assumptions.

3. We do not form a hypothesis. Once we make an observation, we almost instantaneously form a conclusion and etch it in stone. That conclusion becomes the Truth on which we perceive the world.

→ Scientists and engineers form hypotheses that attempt to explain the observation; and these hypotheses are tested thoroughly before any conclusion is made.

4. We do not test or collect and analyze any other data. We make our judgement based on one isolated incident. We do not bother to determine whether that isolated incident is a fluke or a normal occurrence.

→ Scientists and engineers know better than to form conclusions based on one piece of data. The big-thinkers design experiments to test their hypotheses and collect lots of data. The data is then analyzed in order to understand what the normal state of the subject is and whether any observation holds significant meaning.

5. We do not provide alternative explanations. We judge and close the books.

→ Engineers first brainstorm a ton of possible solutions that may help solve the problems of the world. They think and think and think until they decide on a solution that is optimal for the given constraints and requirements. Then, the engineers design a prototype to test their solution before ever implementing it on a large scale.

6. We do not communicate our findings effectively. We either keep our judgments to ourselves or we share our findings through gossip. Rarely do we ever directly address the person we judged. Instead, we tend to avoid confrontation altogether or talk about the person behind his or her back.

→ Scientists and engineers are protective over their research and findings; but they want to share what they’ve learned with everyone. They want others to benefit from their research and inventions so that together we can continue to understand the world and solve problems.

REFLECT

How does our way of judging people compare and contrast to the scientific approach? How does our thinking compare and contrast to the engineering design method? We don’t all need to be scientists and engineers; but these people really know how to think, and we can learn a lot from them.

Scientists and engineers are really good at judging and separating fact from folly. They are trained to not jump to conclusions based on their personal feelings. Instead, they thoroughly assess an observation and test their thinking until the data provides irrefutable evidence. Then, they communicate their research so that others can learn and we can continue to evolve.

What can we learn from scientists and engineers? How can we apply their methods for observing, analyzing, and concluding to our daily lives? Their methods are by no means limited to natural phenomenon; rather, the methods can easily be adapted to help us work through our feelings and improve our relationships.

In Part 3 of our series, we discuss a better approach for judging people that is derived from the scientific and engineering design methods. If you haven’t done so already, please read Part 1 before continuing in order to understand the context of this series. (Consider Part 1 your research step. We are working on our observation and interpretation skills after all.) When you have fully reflected on Part 1 and Part 2 and are ready to continue, click here: Judging People: A Scientific Approach Part 3 – A Smarter Way To Judge People.

2 comments

  1. Hannah says:

    Agree 100%! I have often encountered “rude” people on the phone or in our community.. Of course the first thing the comes to my mind is “how rude!!!!” Or what a “jerk” yet I have learned to always take a deep breath and tell myself you don’t know what they are going through.. Or what happened to them. Who knows, they could be having an awful day! We don’t know.. So I have no right to judge someone over one incident when maybe I caught them at a bad time.

    • Rachael says:

      Beautifully said, Hannah! “…I have learned to always take a deep breath and tell myself you don’t know what they are going through or what happened to them.” A deep breath is a great idea. It gives us an opportunity to pause, focus on something other than the immediate judgmental thought, and assess the situation objectively. Thanks for the tip!

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