Better Judgment

We all judge things every day.

Other people, sports plays, the latest news. We all form an opinion.

The problem is that we often don’t have the context, or the knowledge, to form a good opinion.

It can make for good conversation, true, but when we form an opinion we get stuck with it.

We defend it, and then we seek information to confirm it. We do this all without thinking. It’s how we’re wired.

But we would be well-served to try and improve how we judge things.

Here are four ways we can be better:

Reserve judgment: We should all be a little more comfortable saying “I don’t know” and “I don’t have enough information to form an opinion.” The modern workplace frowns upon that kind of response, and while it matters less in conversation, it helps us avoid becoming attached to a particular view.

Wait: Initial impressions are rarely good impressions. Our initial impressions are emotional, and often related more to past events than the one we’re trying to evaluate. Waiting helps us put things in perspective. It helps us remove the emotional component, and really consider the question we’re trying to answer, like “was this action correct?” instead of an easier one like “do I like this person?”

Seek opposing arguments: As we start to form an opinion, it helps to deliberately seek out an opposing view. The military often calls this “red-teaming”: you assume the opposite perspective, that of the “enemy.” Figure out why the other side believes what they do. Try and prove it yourself. Then revisit your original opinion—does it still hold up?

Test some mental models: Mental models are simplifications of the world that help us think. They are never exact representations of how the world works, but they can help us see it in different ways. Inversion is one such tool: instead of trying to answer the question, ask and answer the inverse question. For example, try and figure out how to avoid being unhappy, instead of how to be happy. Repositioning the question or using some different models can help us think about an issue in a new light.

We can’t avoid judgment; it’s part of our nature.

But we do it so frequently that even small improvements can yield big results in the long-term.

Better judgment = better decisions = a better life.