Has anyone ever told you ”I feel criticised by you” or “You are so judgemental” and you have no idea why they said that, as in your opinion you were simply being direct and addressing the issue at hand? Did you feel judged and misunderstood in the moment and felt that such feedback was unreasonable and hurtful? Well, if this happens rather frequently, you may be making this common mistake: confusing your observation with evaluation.

“When we combine observation with evaluation, people are apt to hear criticism.”

Marshal Rosenberg

Marshal Rosenberg, the author of “Nonviolent Communication”, describes seven ways we tend to combine observation with evaluation and create judgement and criticism.

  1. Use of the verb to be without an indication that the evaluator takes responsibility:

You are too reckless (observation + evaluation)

VS

You were riding your motorbike without a helmet at 80 km per hour (observation – evaluation)

  1. Use of a verb with an evaluative connotation:

Mike wastes his time (observation + evaluation)

VS

Mike has watched Netflix all weekend (observation – evaluation)

  1. Implication that one’s inference about someone’s behaviour or intentions is the right one.

Sarah doesn’t care about her job (observation + evaluation)

VS

Sarah has stated that she has felt unmotivated lately (observation – evaluation)

  1. Confusion of prediction with certainty

If you don’t exercise enough, you will get sick (observation + evaluation)

VS

Not getting enough daily exercise might negatively impact your health (observation – evaluation).

  1. Failure to be specific about referents

You don’t care about your health (observation + evaluation)

VS

Are you saying that you don’t eat fruits and vegetables? (observation – evaluation)

  1. Using words denoting ability without indicating that an evaluation is being made.

Mary is a bad secretary (observation- evaluation)

VS

Mary has advised that in her last report she was rushing and has made a number of mistakes.

  1. Using adverbs and adjectives in ways that do not indicate an evaluation.

Katie is stupid (observation + evaluation)

VS

I don’t find it interesting to discuss the topics Katie wants to focus on (observation – evaluation)

Do you make the same mistakes? This might be a reason for harsh judgements and assumptions, and the arguments you have with other people. Be aware of these seven examples and practice communicating your observations without evaluations.