Afraid of being judged?

Cartoon of stern judge issuing a commandFear of being judged shows up in many ways.

We don’t say what we really feel. We don’t wear what we want to wear. We don’t plant our garden – metaphorically or literally – the way we want to plant it.

We don’t eat what we want to eat. We don’t ask for what we really want. We don’t read what we want to read, and we don’t watch the shows we want to watch.

We don’t raise important issues with our families, and we hold back from voicing concerns and ideas at work. We don’t ask questions that might reveal our ignorance or make us look stupid.

We don’t speak out about things that bother us or conflict with our values.

Some of what I’ve listed here might make no sense to you

Maybe you proudly wear whatever style you want. Perhaps you dug up all your grass and planted a gorgeous cottage garden – or a meadow – in the midst of a sea of manicured lawns. Or you might be known as the one who speaks truth to power.

Why are we concerned about being judged for some things, but not others?

Here’s the secret: when we fear being judged by others, we have already judged ourselves.

I’ll put it another way.

You’ll never fear others’ judgement if you aren’t first judging yourself, questioning your ability or your right – or, more likely, your safety – in doing or being whatever it is you’re concerned about.

It’s your inner critic speaking

When we really, truly want something but we fear doing it, having it, or being it because of what we think others will say – it’s the voice of the inner critic that’s holding us back.

There’s a lot of talk in self-improvement and self-help circles about not caring what others think.

The thing is, there are plenty of situations in which you really don’t care what “they” think. Why? Because you know everything’s fine.

So to say we shouldn’t care what others think is missing the first, most important step.

We have to not care what our inner critic thinks.

If you’re yearning to do, have, or be something, but you’re worried about what “they” will think – stop and look inside. What’s the voice in your head – the voice of your inner critic – saying? What’s the inner critic projecting out into the world, onto “them”?

If you can bring yourself to not care what it’s saying, you’ll stop caring what “they” think.

Interested in learning more about self-talk and the Inner Critic? Click here to hop over to the description of my self-study program “Managing your Inner Critic: how to stop the rotten-tomato fight in your head.”

gljudson Self-talk

Why you should never ask “Why?” (and what to ask instead)

3-D question marks arising from boxesIt seems entirely reasonable: someone does something wrong – or at least, not as you’d expect – and you ask, “Why did you do that?”

There’s just one problem with this – just one, but it’s a big one: “why” creates an immediate sense of defensiveness and self-protection.

“Why did you do that?” Feel it for yourself. It carries a strong implication that you screwed up and you’re in trouble.

Even if the person did screw up and is in trouble, asking “why?” is still a bad option. Very simply, defensiveness does not lead to an openness to learning. Instead, it leads to closing down and withdrawing. Any conversation about the situation is likely to be all about how they were right to do what they did, or that it wasn’t really that bad, or that you’re a mean person and a bad manager for criticizing them.

Let’s try a different approach

The reality is, this individual did do something wrong, or at least not in the way you’d like them to do it, and it is an issue that needs to be corrected.

So what DO you do, if you don’t ask “why?”

Ask “what” questions instead.

For instance:

“What happened?”

“What steps did you follow?”

“What were you expecting to happen?”

(Try to avoid “What were you thinking?” because, as useful a question as that ought to be, it’s way too associated with the accusation “what WERE you thinking?!”, with the all-too-obvious implication that they weren’t thinking at all.)

Asking “what” questions engages them in conversation, and then you can ask more “what” questions.

“What do you think you might have done differently?”

“What if you had done this?

And so on.

One of my clients went this route recently after an employee made a major error in judgement. He reported later that, despite having to exert a lot of self-control not to ask “why,” the “what”-based conversation ended up being far more productive than he expected. In fact, the employee actually answered the “why” question spontaneously, which, again, led to a productive conversation in which both of them learned. Even better, he felt confident that this mistake – and others like it – would not be repeated.

It’s a very natural tendency to ask “why.” For one thing, you probably really want to know!

But if you take the “what” route, you’ll discover “why” along the way – AND you’ll have a far greater opportunity to teach and coach them into doing better next time – just as my client did.

Which will make both of you a whole lot happier.

gljudson Leadership

You’ve heard this before – and it’s still true

Cartoon question mark made up of speech bubblesOne of the challenges of listening well is that we tend to listen to respond instead of listening to understand.

This comes in several flavors. You might listen to the first few sentences, and then start constructing your answer in your mind … which means you tune out the rest of what’s being said.

Or you might have something you really-really want to say, but out of “politeness” you wait for the other person to finish speaking.

I put “politeness” in quotes because what’s really going on in your head is anything but polite. Instead, it’s more along the lines of “I’ve never heard anyone speak so slowly … does she really know what she’s talking about? … no, I’ve thought this through much more clearly … she needs to hear what I have to say on the subject…” and so on.

Neither of these, nor any of the other variations on listening-not-listening, is very polite.

And it comes across to the other person.

If you tune out half or three-quarters of what’s being said, you miss important information that might very well cause you to choose a different response. And if you’re just waiting for the other person to shut up, already, so you can speak, your body language will be impatient and your tone will be abrupt and potentially authoritarian.

True listening starts with your willingness to be self-aware and notice when your attention is straying, notice that you’re self-absorbed and focused on what you want to say, paying only minimal consideration to the other person’s words.

One of the most beautiful, precious gifts we can give to anyone is our attention. And if we want to create real connection with someone, whether it’s your boss, your colleague, your partner, or your kid, giving someone the gift of your full attention is a great way to start.

It’s a simple thing, but not necessarily easy.

gljudson Better conversations

Bridging the Gap – even when you disagree

This is a talk I did at a recent public symposium at the Fayetteville, Arkansas public library. (A beautiful space, if you’re anywhere in the area!)

The overall symposium topic was “Discover the Power With(in).”  Eight speakers, of which I was (obviously) one, presented their perspective on personal power, the power we all have within us to create collaboration and “power with.”

As various audience members pointed out, these are much-needed and valuable conversations to have in our world today.


gljudson Conflict

Muting the rotten tomato (a.k.a. your inner critics)

Cartoon tomato with sad faceI’ve got good news and bad news.

The bad news is that your inner critics will never go away completely.

The good news is – well, actually, there are two pieces of good news. (Yay!)

Good news #1

You can dial down the inner critics’ noise significantly. With time, patience, and practice, the inner critics’ voices will sound more and more like a television playing in the other room. You might catch a word or two, or even whole sentences, but they won’t make much of an impact on you. You’ll stop paying so much attention.

Good news #2

Believe it or not, sometimes the inner critics have useful information for you. After all, their single objective is to protect you. That’s why they installed themselves in your head in the first place: at one point in your life, you needed them to keep you safe. So while we might want them to pack their bags and take their squishy rotten selves out of our lives, it’s truly not an entirely bad thing that this won’t happen.

Because sometimes, believe it or not, we need to hear what they have to say, if only because it gives us the opportunity to manage risks that we might otherwise be stumbling blindly into.

Ongoing practice

That’s what it takes: ongoing practice. And sometimes that’s really, really hard. Sometimes it feels like the inner critics are absolutely right in everything they say about you. And in those moments, the effort to not argue (see my last post) and to carry on with what you want to do and who you want to be … that effort can feel like a weight too heavy to lift.

That’s okay.

Let me say it again: that’s okay.

And letting yourself get upset and distracted by the fact that sometimes the weight is just too heavy only adds fuel to the inner critics’ fire and gives them something new to criticize.

So let it go, and know that you’re practicing.

Interested in learning more about self-talk and the Inner Critic? Click here to hop over to the description of my self-study program “Managing your Inner Critic: how to stop the rotten-tomato fight in your head.”

gljudson Self-talk

What to say to your inner critic

Cartoon tomato with crazy eyes sticking out its tongueIn my last post, I suggested that you list out the cast of characters throwing rotten tomatoes around in your head.

You know, your Inner Critic – or rather, your whole regiment of Critics, since none of us have just one. (If you want to go back and (re-)read that post, click this link; it opens in a new window, so you won’t lose your place here.)

The examples I named in that post were the Slavedriver, the Martyr, the Professor, and the Perfectionist, but there are many more.

As an example, while the Professor and the Perfectionist play a large part in helping people (you?) feel like a fraud in whatever work they do (or want to do), there are several others that contribute to the Fraud Factor and Imposter Syndrome. For instance, the Dutiful One often plays a role, telling you to obey rules and yield to other people’s “obviously superior” (or so it says) expertise instead of taking a stand as an expert yourself.

You get the point, I’m sure.

So what can you do?

I’ll tell you what not to do: don’t argue.

Your Inner Critics will always have one more reason why they’re right than you’ll ever have why they’re wrong.

It seems reasonable to argue, to try to convince them with logic, emotion, and even experience (“See?! I did that thing just fine, so why are you still telling me I’ll fail?”). But the Inner Critics can always find experiences that didn’t go well to prove their point (“Yeah, that was just a lucky break. Remember this time and this time and this time, when you failed miserably?”).

(This, by the way, is why what people call “affirmations” often don’t work. We call them affirmations, but they’re actually arguments in disguise.)

Instead of arguing, say, “Thank you for sharing.” And carry on.

Instead of arguing, say, “Okay.” And carry on.

Instead of arguing, say, “Thanks for trying to protect me.” And carry on.

These statements give the Inner Critics nothing to disagree with. They’re neutral. There’s no argument for them to push against.

The real challenge lies in the second step

And carry on.

All too often, we allow our Inner Critics to stop us dead in the water.

Whether it’s because we get sucked into arguing (it happens, even when we know better!), or because we feel as if we can’t take the next step until the Inner Critics say it’s okay (they never will), we stop. We know the next step. We know what to do to carry on with what we want. But we don’t do it.

We let the Inner Critics rule our lives, instead of claiming sovereignty – and claiming what we want.

What will you do?

Interested in learning more about self-talk and the Inner Critic? Click here to hop over to the description of my self-study program “Managing your Inner Critic: how to stop the rotten-tomato fight in your head.”

gljudson Self-talk

Who’s throwing rotten tomatoes?

Cartoon tomato with crazy eyes sticking out its tongueYour inner critic, that’s who.

And if you’re like most people, you’ve got a whole regiment of critics installed in your head, all armed with their own special sort of tomato.

There’s the Slavedriver: you’ll never work hard enough to succeed.

The Perfectionist: no matter how hard you work, it will never be good enough.

The Martyr: you have to put everyone else’s needs first, or you’re a Bad Person.

The Ghost: it’s soooo not safe to be seen!

The Professor: unless you know All The Things, you can’t possibly be a professional in your field.

And so on.

How do you talk to yourself?

What rotten tomatoes are flying in your head?

What are you dreaming about doing, but your Inner Critics keep talking you out of it?

Are there goals you’ve set for yourself, visions of your future you’ve imagined, but you can’t gain momentum … because your Inner Critics are holding you back?

Start by identifying the cast of characters

It’s easy to label it all as the Inner Critic, but it’s really much more than that. It’s a host of voices, a chorus, if you will (although they definitely sing off-key!).

Who’s in your regiment of rotten-tomato-throwing Inner Critics? What is each one’s role? The tomatoes they throw have their own special look, feel, and flavor. Name them. Write it down.

It’s not fun to do this exploration, but it’s an important first step.

As the old saying goes, you’ve got to see it to heal it.

Next post, the next step – click here

Interested in learning more about self-talk and the Inner Critic? Click here to hop over to the description of my self-study program “Managing your Inner Critic: how to stop the rotten-tomato fight in your head.”


gljudson Self-talk

From the Summer of Love to the March For Our Lives

March For Our Lives posterMuch to my regret, as a trailing-edge Baby Boomer I was too young for most of the activity in the 1960s. The protests, the love-ins, the sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll … in hindsight, I suspect I might have been lucky to be too young, but at the time, I bitterly resented not being a few years older.

This past Saturday, I attended the March For Our Lives event in Kansas City, Missouri.

To say I was impressed by the quality of planning, depth of talent, diversity of perspective, and commitment to creating change is a profound understatement. These young adults (I will not call them “kids”!) have made a powerful and very moving statement about the world they live in – and this weekend’s events are not the end of the story by any means.

The 1960s were about dropping out – out of school, out of mainstream expectations, out of politics, and in many ways (and sometimes literally), out of life. While that era was important in our history (as are all eras), and marked a rebellion against our parents’ “Silent Generation / Traditionalists” obedience to hierarchical authority, it had only a limited impact due to the very dropping-out nature of the movement.

Today’s young adults are not dropping out. Brought up in a world of global communication, they have already demonstrated that they know how to use that connection to organize on a large scale. They’re well aware of the politics at play as well as of the political power they have – and they have every intention of wielding that power.

In the 1960s, the mantra was “Never trust anyone over 30.” Today, while these young adults are certainly not going to wait for us olders to take action on what’s important to them (we haven’t so far!), they are more than willing to include us in the movement; they’ll take whatever support we care to offer.

Communication. Engagement. Determination. Commitment.


After this weekend, I have more hope for our world and for the future than I have had in some time.

gljudson Leadership

That thing they don’t do …

Graphic of hand holding sign reading "I didn't do it!"There’s something someone doesn’t do.

It’s totally in your face. You trip over it – literally or figuratively – every time you turn around.

It might be the employee who always forgets to fill in their time-sheet.

Or it could be your partner, spouse, kid, or roommate who never closes the kitchen cabinet doors.

The cat’s empty water bowl … the client’s unanswered question … the mail left in the mailbox … the un-proofread report …

Whatever it is, it’s so freaking obvious. In fact, it’s so freaking obvious that it’s just as obvious that they don’t care. They don’t care about you, they don’t care about their job, they don’t care about the cat.


But it’s not obvious

Have you ever had someone get really upset about something you didn’t do, and all the while you’re wondering what’s the big deal?, or thinking whoa, they’re really over-reacting!?

What was obvious to them wasn’t obvious to you.

What was a big deal for them isn’t a big deal for you.

Likewise, that thing that person consistently doesn’t do is obvious to you – but not to them.

It’s just not a big deal for them.

Celebrate difference!

We’re all different, and thank goodness for it. Life would be impossibly boring if everyone were the same (or even similar).

Those differences can be endlessly fascinating and, at the same time, endlessly irritating.

Even after you explain why something is important to you, the other person may or may not get it. And even if they get it, they may or may not change.

It’s up to you to notice your reaction … … pause … … and choose to stay calm instead of getting infuriated.

It’s up to you, and I’ll guarantee your life will be happier if you choose calm.

Not only that: the other person is far more likely to change if you choose calm.

Calm creates much less defensive resistance in the other person than fury.

gljudson Difficult people

Well, what did you expect?

Blue-on-blue "expectations"Last week, I facilitated a two-and-a-half-day boot-camp-style workshop. It was intense.

Especially since after the first hour and a half, participants were upset, complaining, and threatening to leave.

By the end of the second day, they were raving fans.

It all came down to expectations

The marketing and pre-workshop emails hadn’t set expectations about what was going to happen. People arrived expecting a traditional workshop format: they would sit and take notes, and the presenters (there were five of us, though I was the program designer, developer, and the primary speaker and facilitator) would stand at the front of the room with bullet-pointed slides and teach.

A boot camp is different. A boot camp requires the participants to participate.  It requires them to think, extrapolate, discover, and be actively involved in on-the-spot learning.

To say I felt distinctly ill by the first break is putting it mildly.

To say I felt exhilarated by the end of the second day is putting it just as mildly.

Resetting expectations

We should have done a better job setting expectations up front. We should have been clear about what we expected the participants to do, and what they should expect to experience.

But even when expectations aren’t set correctly, there are often ways to salvage the situation.

And that’s what we did.

When everyone re-assembled after the morning break, we explained the format, including why we were conducting the program in this way. There were still plenty of doubters, but as we proceeded through the material – continuing to explain why along the way – they began to experience shifts in their thinking, knowledge, and understanding. And that resulted in shifts in their appreciation for the program as a whole.

Our expectations

Those of us designing and teaching the boot camp expected the people marketing the program and informing the participants to provide information about the format … information that, in hindsight, they probably didn’t have or know they needed to provide.

Expectations and assumptions

When you don’t set expectations, people make assumptions, and those assumptions can often be quite different from what you intend.

Because you’re familiar with the situation, you may think you don’t need to be explicit in setting expectations. In our case, we’d been working on this program for half a year. We were thoroughly steeped in the why, how, and what we were going to deliver. We assumed it would be obvious.

Obviously, it wasn’t.

What’s the purpose of the meeting you’re scheduling? Why are you conducting that survey? Why did you choose to do things this way instead of that way? What’s the context?

Don’t let your assumptions lead you astray.

Set clear expectations, even if you think you’re stating the obvious.

You’ll save a lot of time, frustration, and anxiety.

gljudson Leadership