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How Can We Improve Our Judgment?
“Good judgment comes from experience and experience comes from bad judgment,” or so goes the well-known quote.
Of the many factors that contribute to success as a leader, decision-maker, or individual contributor, perhaps none has more impact than the “good thinking” of sound judgment. Given that making good judgments lies at the heart of effective leadership, it’s surprising we don’t talk about it or teach it more actively.
Technically speaking, judgment is the ability to weigh complex information and competing ideas and reach a reasonable conclusion. Everyone is capable of forming valuable opinions that lead to good decisions and choices, but having good judgment is reserved for those who do so consistently.
More often than not, those with good judgment give the appropriate weighting to information and competing views and perform the calculus that leads to quality decisions. But how? What exactly is the calculus?
What distinguishes good from bad judgment is a matter of three distinctive steps or processes which can be practiced by anyone.
The first step is to recognize the need to maintain an objective lens on the data one will soon evaluate. Keeping self-interest and personal biases out of the equation as one assesses information sets the foundation for thinking clearly. This is why people with strong convictions, committed ideologies, and deep-seated assumptions often make poor judgments. We can’t weigh information and experience accurately if we can’t hold our biases at bay.
The time to apply our experience and beliefs occurs later, after the accumulation of data. Initially, it is essential not to allow biases and self-interest to filter too much of what we will be considering.
When making a judgment about anything, the next step is to learn as much information as is possible given the time constraints. Expanding the array of possibilities and views must happen before narrowing them. Focusing on the right questions is the critical move. By openly seeking diverse viewpoints, we allow competing information, viewpoints, and data to wash over the mind.
People with poor judgment often limit the possibilities too quickly or land on a viewpoint before considering the options. The key is to seek alternate views, not validation.
Once the information and competing views have been collected, it is now time to sort and give them weight based on our experience and working premises. While weighing an option, the standards of plausibility and feasibility must be applied with rigor.
How believable is the information?
Can the information be practically applied to the decision?
Given these assessments, what information carries the most weight?
Judgments are the end product of all three steps, whether we do them expertly or poorly. This approach is less a process for making better judgments than it is a practice routine. By practicing any of the three steps in any current judgment, we increase the odds of making better judgments in the future.
Our judgment evolves as we open the mind before narrowing it. Given our propensity to do the opposite, good judgment will continue to prove elusive to those with the strongest convictions.