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Making a Judgment and Having an Opinion vs Being Judgmental and Opinionated

I was forced to clarify my thoughts about these terms when a judgmental, highly opinionated client got into a pickle with his son. He offers his son uninvited, negative, judgmental opinions about his behavior and choices and when the son tells my client he feels judged my client says, “It’s my opinion and I have the right to express it.” Thus, when confronted he hides behind his “right to have an opinion” which conveniently allows him to avoid looking at how painful his judgments are. As a result his son avoids him because to be in his company is often too punishing. In order to discuss this issue with my client I first had to get clear on the distinction between making a judgment and having an opinion versus being judgmental and being opinionated. Unless we define our terms these kinds of discussions can be difficult since such terms often have different meanings for different folks.

I think opinions are beliefs not necessarily based on fact and are based more on preference. E.g. In my opinion Beefeaters Gin is tastier than Gordon’s Gin. I think a judgment is more apt to be based on facts—more like an assessment which takes information into consideration. A courtroom judge makes a judgment based on the evidence. E.g. “Given all the facts of the case, I think Mrs Jones still owns the automobile.” Or, in a more personal vein, E.g.,  “I have decided that buying a new car is not a wise use of money since I can get the same car one year later for 20% less.” But, to be “judgmental” as I understand the use of the adjective, is to tend to be more rigid about one’s beliefs and to be less open and perhaps even critical of opposing views. The same holds true for the term “opinionated .” These two adjectives, when we use them to describe someone, are usually attempts to make a general statement about the person’s pattern of interactive behavior. We use them in a behaviorally “predictive” way.

The issue becomes even more difficult to clarify because non-verbal cues play a part in how opinions and judgments are interpreted. If I say, “I don’t like your blouse,” my non-verbal cues (tone of voice, facial expression, etc.) will color your interpretation of my meaning and therefore your response. That is, you may determine me to be both opinionated and judgmental if I speak with a sharp tone.

Further, negative, uninvited opinions are almost always seen as judgmental. It

is my experience that opinionated people are more apt to offer such uninvited feedback. It is also my experience that opinionated, judgmental people often hide behind the words “opinion” or “feeling” when they are called out about being judgmental. They will say, “I have the right to an opinion” and expect that to excuse their judgment. Or they will say, “I was only telling you my feelings,” when they were giving their opinion and not *sharing feelings.

*(Clarification of sharing opinions versus sharing feelings: E.g. You were very selfish to eat all the shrimp.” This is not a feeling statement—it is name calling and an judgmental opinion. A feeling statement in this situation might be, “When you took all the shrimp off the dish and left me only vegetables I lost interest in eating the dish.” If you read my book, Play It By Ear: Improvise Your Way to Lasting Friendships, you’ll find a more complete explanation of  how to correctly express feelings)

Most of us can be judgmental and opinionated at times but it is a pattern of interaction which can be problematic.  From this frame of reference I did ultimately ask my client the following question.  “Since you agree, based on my definition of the term, that you are opinionated, are you willing to examine whether or not it has  negatively affected your relationship with your son? ”  We are making headway.

Posted: September 6, 2012 under General .


Time: September 6, 2012, 9:38 am

Thanks Ron for sharing this. So many people feel that giving unasked for feedback of any kind is a moral imperative. Often just a way to impose their sensibilities, and value system on others. It often results in isolation and loneliness. I will post this on my blog. Misty

Time: September 6, 2012, 9:56 am

Nicely done, as always. I agree that “judgmental” is a much more loaded term than “opinionated.”

But then it doesn’t really matter what you call the troublesome behavior — the important thing is that it’s hurtful and insensitive and alienating, which is not what the offender intended at all. Quite the opposite, in fact.

I’m impressed that you got through to your client. People like him who are so wrapped up in their own rectitude can be particularly difficult to work with (of course, that’s only my opinion! ;-D)

Time: September 6, 2012, 10:00 am

Arent the power of words fascinating. Add the letters “al” to the word judgment and it changes it from a probably thoughtful conclusion to an unfriendly adjective

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