To take on the deep challenge that conflict poses means confronting the role and power that “judgment” has in our lives. We say, “our” advisedly here. Because dispute resolution professionals are by no means immune from the grasp of judgment when dealing with conflict.

When using “judgment,” we need, in English, to distinguish between judging as in discernment, and judging as in critical labeling within us – right and wrong, good and bad – with usually strong emotions being associated with the judgments.  Some languages have different words for these two related but quite different kinds of “judgments.”  In English, we have one, although being “judgmental” captures the quality of disparagement.

The two different aspects of judgment can at times seem almost indistinguishable, and it is so very easy to move from the one to the other.  But we can, if we want to and if we pay attention, see the differences between the two forms of judgment, even when subtle.

In the judicial system, judges are free to have both kinds of judgments, although their judicial decisions, their rendered judgments, it is understood, should be guided by discernment:  applying the law to the facts “dispassionately.”

Conflict professionals often pride themselves as being “judgment free.”  For us, that is an aspiration that requires continual self awareness in the moment, and from moment to moment.  It is not just a matter of not showing your judgments, but of realizing them and not being attached to or caught up in them…. and, perhaps, learning from them.  That learning is not just in terms of the party or parties sitting with us, but learning within ourselves – learning in terms of appreciating the power that judgment can have over us and within us (and within the parties as well).  It also involves finding a different way of recognizing and letting go of the hold that judgment can readily have over us and others, if we wish to do so and intend to do so.  That path has the promise and possibility of leading to compassion, empathy and connection.

That does not mean that “anything goes” – that we simply accept whatever either of both parties want or do.  It rather means, for us, that we aspire in our work toward a place we may seek to meet each other “beyond right and wrong.”  Whatever our internal experience as we work to help people in conflict, we seek to join with them from a place of recognizing our judgments and the feelings that give rise to them within us — not being attached to them, and reaching, if we choose, to the search for greater understanding, compassion, empathy and connection.

Seeking that path, we can work more deeply and richly with ourselves, with the parties we serve, and with each other.