We are all judges. It takes just seconds to form an opinion about someone. But in order to truly hear and respect another person, we need to be fully conscious of our judgmental tendencies. This is an important practice for becoming an open-minded listener and in creating a culture of tolerance and acceptance. Best of all; it can be learned.
When we teach our Power of One course for front line employees, we do an exercise to help participants realize their judgmental tendencies. Once we raise awareness of that human tendency, we are able to help them refrain some of their automatic thoughts and reactions that get in the way of fully engaging with their customers.
Over the years, there has been a push to practice greater cultural sensitivity which is a step in the right direction. But I find that the things that often get in the way of patient care include judgments made about others values, priorities, appearance and lifestyle choices among others.
During my years as a public health nurse I encountered many parents struggling to provide for their families and who needed to use the services of our well-child clinics, the Women, Infant and Children (WIC) and other programs. There was one young, single mother in particular with whom I had been working to facilitate healthcare services for her children. I was very proud of her receptivity and her commitment to her children’s well-being. She was eager to learn and was doing the best she could with meager resources. One day when she arrived for an appointment, “Mona” one of my co-workers noticed the young mother was wearing what she considered expensive boots. Mona rolled her eyes and said, “If she can afford those boots, she certainly can dress her baby better and doesn’t need these programs. She’s abusing the system.” I was horrified at Mona’s judgmental comments and could tell by her interactions with this mother and baby that her attitude was creating a barrier to achieving a positive partnership. Seeing her judgmental response, I stepped in and managed the appointment myself. Later I spoke with Mona and let her know that she had badly misjudged the mother and the entire situation. I told her it was upsetting to me to observe this. I asked her to be aware of how her judgments were getting in the way of what we needed to achieve.
I wish I could say Mona was open to my feedback, but she wasn’t. Being 20 years my senior, she had “seen it all” and let me know I was naive and would get more realistic with time. Maybe so, but it left me with an indelible lesson about how being judgmental prevents partnership and progress.
One of the greatest gifts we can give our patients is to be an open-minded listener. That starts with suspending judgment.