It turns out that when I say “use your judgement,” I don’t mean that…

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(c) Piers Nye

So I have been unwittingly lying for many years when I have been asking people to use their judgement to wend their way out of difficult situations.

It turns out that I didn’t mean that but rather I meant, use my judgement or better yet the judgement of someone who gets paid more than me to figure it out.

I landed on this after dutifully studying some competency definitions of judgement to try and get a handle on how to explain this slippery concept.

To be fair, the definitions of judgement that you can find will likely be helpful in a job interview setting.  They generally counsel you to:

  • act on fact and not emotion
  • weigh the various bits of information available
  • look at long term consequences

All fair enough and job interview answers that show you’ve considered a range of factors and have subsequently found a reasonable way forward will often suffice in those scenarios.

Day to day however, I find this much less instructive.  You can do all this and consistently be considered to miss the mark on judgment if you miss out on one key overlay – your boss’s definition of good judgement.

I landed on the missing link recently after some reflection that was confirmed by a dinner with a very strategic friend.

When I say use your judgement I really mean ask yourself what the boss seems to value in the working environment and use that as your lens for a decision.

What relationships are important?

What is their history on this file and what outcome to they want?

What optics are important to them?

Even more tricky will be that it may be hard to sleuth out what any boss might do in the early days of relationship.

So, what can you do?

First thing is that you can reliably predict that you will one day be in a spot where you can’t ask for direction and must go it alone with your own instincts.  So, when you can, spin out a couple of “what if” scenarios with your boss (“Can this go out while you are on vacation or do you want another look?”) and better yet, extrapolate to more generic learnings that you can confirm with your boss when time allows.  For instance, “If I understand correctly, you’d want me to get the blessing from communications and research before I send things out for consult at the working level?”

Less fun but no less necessary is doing the work to extrapolate the general boundaries after a difficult exchange.  Ideal is to try to tease out the “why” behind a negative reaction to a course taken.  Since ultimately it isn’t helpful to say “That was bad judgement.”

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