Would you consider yourself a learner or a judger? Let’s face it, most of us are a combination of both. When someone communicates an idea or best practice, we may listen to what they’re saying, but it’s how we listen that really matters.

Do you tend to listen with an open mind and follow-up with questions to gain a complete understanding of what’s being said? Or do you immediately default to evaluation or judging mode, where as the words are being spoken, you’re shooting holes at them. You may think to yourself: “That will never work in my business” or worse yet, you have an ad hominem reaction where you focus your negativity on the person versus that actual content.   You dismiss the idea or proposal because it doesn’t resonate with your worldview or simply as a byproduct of where it came from.

In my work with Leon Shapiro in writing The Power of Peers, I talked with Fredricka Brecht who leads several CEO Peer Advisory Groups in Texas. Here’s an excerpt from my interview with her about learners and judgers:

Fredricka: One of the things that I observe, is people come into these groups with a leaning on either being a person who tends to judge, versus a person who tends to learn. I’ve got a room full of judgers and learners. Part of what I’m coaxing the judgers to do, is to become a learners.   Because if they go through life and they run their companies from a learner standpoint, they’re a better leader of their people. They’re a better coach of their executives, and they are more capable of operating in a safe environment. People who come from a position of judgment have a hard time creating safety for others. Does that make sense?

Leo:     It does, and what I would imagine too, is for the judger, they’re far less likely to want to be vulnerable because they think others are mirroring their behavior, right? They feel like they’re being judged, just like they’re judging others. Or someone who is a learner, feels safe to talk about things, knowing they’re not going to be right all the time, knowing they can make mistakes, and giving others the freedom to do so as well.

As I reflect on that simple exchange, I think about how much I learned by listening to Fredricka that day. While her many insights were invaluable to the book, they also made me step back and consider my own learning versus judging tendencies. I may always have some tendency to judge, but if there’s one thing I’d like to improve upon next year is to be in learner mode far more often.

Think about giving it a try yourself. You might learn something. Happy New Year!