Ep 127: Leadership Sandtraps #7 – Oh, I Don’t Judge People

Continuing the series on leadership sandtraps, the topic of judging people is sandtrap number seven. In this episode, Adam Quiney discusses why leaders who have a disempowering relationship to judgment often fall into this sandtrap. He explains how the sandtrap is created and the two ends, giving and receiving ends, of judgment. If you are a leader who is unsure whether or not it is right to judge someone else, this episode is for you.

Listen to the Episode Here:

Leadership Sandtraps #7 – Oh, I Don’t Judge People

Here we are having conversations in service of causing leadership. A distinction causing leadership rather than a conversation about leadership. When we were causing leadership, we were intending to create leadership for you in the moment. We’re not intending to give you more conversations, they give you information about leadership, rules to follow, or things to do because leadership is not about following rules. As soon as you have a rule about the way to lead, for example, the way to lead is to get out in front and do the work first. As soon as you have some of that becomes a rule, you can no longer be existing in the moment. Now, you’re existing in the rule. Leadership happens on the edge and in the moment. Anytime we are leading by applying rules by doing what is right, to some extent, we’re advocating from our leadership. 

“I Don’t Judge Other People”

It’s not to say that that rule and that situation was not the right thing to apply. It’s more to point back to the fact that a rule about how to lead will inevitably and inherently be limiting to your leadership at some point. We’re intending to give you distinctions, conversations, the experience of leadership so that when you’re in moments, you can see them as a distinction and get clear and present to what’s available and what possibility lies in front of you. The distinction we’re going to be talking about is the next in our leadership sandtraps series. This is leadership sandtrap number seven. The sandtrap is, “I don’t judge people.” Let me remind you, if you’re new to the series or haven’t been following, a leadership sandtrap is something that shows up in leadership. 

Usually a way of being or a way people have of showing up. It becomes a quagmire. It becomes something that gets us stuck. It might’ve got us to where we are now. it might’ve made us manager, executive director, VP, or any of that stuff of something in particular, but then it has a stuck. That’s the nature of a sandtrap. It often is alluring. It draws us in, but then it keeps us stuck. When we talk about the sandtraps, if you look at the sandtrap itself. Why is it a sandtrap? How does it get created from childhood? What’s the impact? How does this play out? “I don’t judge people.” This sandtrap shows up for leaders who have a disempowering relationship to their judgments and others. 

It’s a disempowering relationship to judgment in general. Judgment is a thing that exists in the world. These leaders have learned that judgment is wrong. They’ve learned and then you can call it to learn to live as though. As a result, the leader ends up with an inability to be with judgment, which consequently means that they have no capacity to see their own judgments. As a result, they are run by their judgments. You can put it differently and say rather than owning their judgments, they are owned by their judgments.

We’ll elaborate on that more, but let’s talk about how this gets created. This sandtrap is often created when people grow up hearing things like, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. Judging people is wrong.” The spirit of these statements is pure. We give a child these things because it’s rude to tell someone they’re a dickhead or if someone is excited about something and we aren’t impressed to tell them like, “This is a piece of garbage you’re bringing me.” It’s not going to go over very well. 

It tends to create you as a bit of a downer. The spirit behind these statements is be positive. Bring people something that motivates them that creates possibility rather than diminishes them. This is given to the child from a pure state that the teachers, parents, guardians, or peers, whoever provided this training to the child are doing so honestly. There’s an honest intention behind it. The result is that the person in question or receiving this training internalizes this not as a heuristic or aim to look for the better part of people. Instead, it becomes an internalized rule. It becomes a broad brush stroke rule applied on mass to judgments. Where that leaves us is that over time, judgment becomes allergic. There’s no room to judge anyone and anytime you do, you’re in trouble. You’re wrong for having a judgment about someone. 

Leadership happens on the edge and in the moment. Click To Tweet

It starts out typically where were like, “It’s wrong for me to speak my judgments.” That eventually becomes “don’t think those thoughts.” It simply being don’t spray your negativity everywhere, I’m paraphrasing a bit, but over time, rather than something along those lines, it becomes don’t have negativity. Don’t ever be negative. Don’t ever have a judgment. This is a bit of a problem. The problem is judgment is a human trait. We judge day from night. We use our judgment to discern between those two. We judged to separate things, to categorize. It’s part of the gift, ingenuity, and ability of humans to judge that brought us to where we are now. Judgment is a fundamental aspect of being a human. You’re judging, “That hat is red. That hat is blue. I like the blue hat, I will choose the blue hat.”

Two Ends On The Spectrum 

We’re given this impossible thing that cannot be solved and the dilemma is, you have judgment and that is fundamentally wrong. Remember, we get down to the point where it’s no longer that I shouldn’t spray my judgment all over people, it’s that I shouldn’t even have it. Whenever we, as humans, are presented with an impossible problem, the way the ego reconciles this is by pushing it into our blind spots. This takes us to the two ends of the spectrum and how it shows up in a leader. A reminder that every sandtrap has two ends along a spectrum. You could think of it like at the one end is you acting out the giving part of the sandtrap. 

On the other end is what it’s like when you’re receiving it. For example, suppose you have a sandtrap that caused you to disrespect people with less money than you, on the one hand. In that case, you’re going to hold yourself above those that earn less than you, but on the receiving end, you’ll bring greater deference and reducing your own sense of worth in the face of those that earn more than you. We always play both sides of this even if we can’t see it. This holds true for every pattern of every sandtrap. On the giving end of the sandtrap, this leader is unable to perceive any of their own judgments, which typically also includes things like frustration and anger or anger tends to be rooted in judgment. As a result, what happens is it’s not that they don’t have judgments, that would be impossible.

It’s that they cannot see their judgments. They exist in their blind spot. It’s the only way they were able to reconcile over time this problem with having growing judgment and the fact that having judgment is wrong. I’ve made an assertion there which is that their judgment is growing and continues to do so. The reason for this is that it’s taking a fizzy bottle of soda, putting the lid on it, and shaking it. The world agitates you over time inevitably. When the lid is screwed on tight and there’s nowhere for that judgment to go, expressed, or let out because it can’t be seen or exist, it builds up pressure and eventually blows the lid off.

This judgment mounts over time. What cannot be experienced directly, meaning what I can’t own or let myself feel cannot be expressed directly and cannot be expressed responsibly. Consequently, that’s how you end up with these leaders owned by their judgments rather than owning them. Their judgments dictate their actions while simultaneously lying right below the surface of their awareness. Everyone around them is present to that judgment, anger, and frustration, but the leader is unable to be present.

GL 127 | Judge People

Judge People: When you’re trying to address a breakdown that’s happened on your team but can’t seem to get to the heart of the matter, it can often be because someone is unwilling to own how they’ve been hurt and the associated judgment they have about how that person showed up.


They can only experience it as an indirect manner. It won’t occur to them as a judgment. As a result, a couple of things happen. One, they deal with their judgments indirectly. They’ll subtly put people down. They’ll make snide comments. They’ll be passive-aggressive. They’ll find ways to shine the light on what they’re doing is better than that other person is doing. Usually, they cannot be supported to move beyond this because they’re unable and unwilling to own their judgments. I want to be clear that the unwillingness is there for them to see and they can’t see it or they’re refusing to.

That would be very uncharitable to suggest that they’re doing this intentionally. We literally cannot see it. This is the nature of a blind spot. It’s not that there were being difficult, even though that occurs that way to everyone else, because they can see our blind spots. To us, it occurs like, “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I don’t have any judgment while simultaneously people in you are a judging motherfucker.” Where people are left is in the impact of these judgments without being able to speak or address them. They can’t point to them. They can’t draw it up. A leader trying to support you is going to be like, “I noticed you’re judgmental.” 

You’d be like, “No, I’m not,” and you’ll have a very compelling, well-reasoned explanation for why you’re not judgmental, all the while stepping over the fact that you are judgmental. On the receiving end of this, these leaders are unable to honor what is showing up and speak to what is going on when they get hurt. As soon as the conversation tends towards something that would have them owning their hurt or their judgments, they get stuck explaining how the person is okay, it’s not their fault, and they’re all right in doing this. What I mean by that is, imagine, you’ve got someone with this sandtrap and they’re on the receiving end, meaning they receive something and it triggers their judgment. You say something in a conversation, inadvertently, it’s innocent but you say something that hurts them. 

There’s an opportunity here for you to get some feedback about how you showed up and how it left someone. There’s an opportunity for that person that got hurt to acknowledge that. Instead, that hurt gets rooted in a judgment. The judgment is they shouldn’t have done that they did it wrong. As soon as we notice there’s a real shift in this person’s energy and start to bring the conversation there. Roger is the one that got hurt. “Roger, I noticed that there’s something going on for you.” They will do all of these mental, verbal calisthenics to explain how it’s totally fine while simultaneously having it not be totally fine. “It’s okay. It annoyed me but at the same time, I recognize that they address. She’s just doing what she does, and it’s not her job.” 

All of that is an effort to make their judgment go away. You end up having this experience of someone and it’s almost like they’re on a piece of ice running as fast as they can. They’re not going anywhere. They’re not dropping down to the thing below. This becomes a sandtrap because you can never get the judgment. You can’t get it out. You can’t get the judgment of or get at the judgment of how someone showed up into the open, so you can’t talk about it. As a result, people are never able to get present to the impact they had because the person that that impact landed on is working so hard to ensure that they don’t have a judgment about it. It creates this wacky dynamic. You’ve possibly had this experience in meetings where you feel like you’re going crazy. You’re trying to get something out in the open and the person is talking and talking around it. 

You’re like, “I don’t understand why this seems so hard. It seems like they’re hurt but they’re telling me they’re not. What’s going on?” This is ultimately what tends to be happening when you’re trying to address a breakdown that’s happened on your team, but can’t seem to get to the heart of the matter. It can often be because someone is unwilling to own how they’ve been hurt and the associated judgment they have about how that person showed up. From all of this, people end up responding and reacting from their judgments, but are resistant to owning that they’re there.

Judgment is a human trait. It's part of the gift, the ingenuity, the ability of humans to judge that brought us to where we are today. Click To Tweet

If we can own, I’ve got judgments then we’re one step closer to being able to recognize when we’re responding or reacting to that judgment. Suppose I can say I have a judgment that people with blonde hair are lazy. In that case, that makes it easier for me to see a little bit when I’m responding like, I’m relating to this person who’s lazy and part of it is because they have blonde hair. I have the judgment of that,” whereas if I had that judgment, but I couldn’t own it, you would have this weird experience with me because you’d notice how this relating to this person is lazy before they’d ever done anything, but we’d never get it out in the open.

It’s almost like I’ve got these grand theories for why this person is lazy or how I already know that. It’s all a function of operating on top of my judgment. Because they’re resisted to owning that they have a judgment, they will forever be owned by that judgment. It makes us a sandtrap is the fact that we can’t leave a place until we’ve been there and because the story is that judgment is wrong, it means we can’t allow ourselves to have judgments. Thus, there’s no opportunity to move beyond there. We’re not able to let ourselves be where we are.

This is the nature of that quote. You cannot leave a place until you’ve been there until we can let ourselves sit in the truth of how we’re showing up. We cannot move beyond it, instead we’re stuck. We’re actively insisting. We don’t have a judgment and then having our behavior impacted by the judgment. It’s worth noting here that you will often see the sandtrap show up when someone has taken some coach or leadership training but is not in an ongoing relationship with someone to support them and distinguishing this ongoingly. 

How To Work With A Sandtrap

The way this works is that when people go to coach training or leadership training, they often learn to see the better person or the higher self. That becomes a rule. It becomes the thing they must always do. That means they paint that over top of the judgment about how they think this person is a bonehead. They’re almost a fatalistic cheerleader. They’re cheering over top of their hopelessness, disdain, frustration, or judgment and it doesn’t work. In fact, it’s sad. How do you work with a sandtrap? The most powerful way out of the sandtrap is to notice that humans are judgment-making machines. To get this about yourself even in this moment, even along with this episode, you’ve had judgments come up. 

The first time you meet someone, you have a judgment. There is no such thing as not having a judgment. You instantly have a judgment the moment you see someone. If you can settle into this truth rather than resisting it, you’re already further ahead. You can begin by noticing your own judgments and rather than relating to this through the binary lens, given by the question, “Do I have judgments or don’t I?” Instead, make the practice of noticing when you have judgments? Not do I or don’t I, but when, where, and how do I have judgments, and what are they? If you’re stuck, you can start by simply noticing that you have a judgment about judgments. This was one of my favorites for a long time and have all these judgments about people that were judgmental. That’s hilarious. If you can’t see this, you can begin there. Consider the notion that the people most insistent they have no judgments are often the most judgmental. 

GL 127 | Judge People

Judge People: The most powerful way out of the judgment sandtrap is to notice that humans are judgment-making machines. There is no such thing as not having a judgment.


If you were to sit in this context for a while and give it some space to breathe, then what would you say about the fact that you can’t see any of your own judgments? What I mean by that is we took that as true for a moment if you sat and said like, “I am certain I don’t have judgments. Yet, I’m going to sit in the truth for now. That means I am more judgmental than anyone else. Where does that leave me?” You can start asking yourself questions like, “If I’m more judgmental than anyone else and I can’t see them, what’s going on?” You can get curious about that rather than going back to, “I guess I don’t have them, or I take this on faith.” When you start noticing your judgments, what you can do is start simply writing them down. 

The problem is not that we, as humans, have judgments. We have them and then either make them meaningful or make them wrong, which is the same thing. People that have judgments are like, “This person is ugly.” They make that mean something instead of judgment that showed up. It’s like the fact that you have hair on your arm. We don’t make that so meaningful. We don’t make it wrong. We don’t need to hide the fact that we have hair on our arm because we don’t have any meaning around it. Our judgment, we have to hide from ourself and at times others because they’re like, “I’ve got judgments. That means I’m bad.” What we want to get you doing is starting to notice these and to allow them to exist without doing anything about them. 

You’ll notice the practice here is not to go out and share your judgments with people. That’s not the point either. We don’t need you to go and spray negativity. We need to start noticing it. The other end of the sandtrap, I’ve already alluded to this, is when people have judgments and believe they are significant and they matter. You have a ton of judgments and none of them have much significance. We’re constantly making up new judgments. “That shirt is too blue. This one is too gray.” “The pants you’re wearing don’t fit you the way they should fit you.”

It’s the judgments we make up. Start noticing them. See if you can see them. If you can start to own your judgments, that will begin to open the door to do something about them. When you’re working with someone else where this is the case, you can invite them to start noticing it. When they’re yes to being supported, you can point to like, “I noticed you got a lot of judgment about this.” I’ll give you one simple example. I had a client and she was sharing how people at our office said that she played favorites. 

I asked her, “do you have favorites?” It took her a while to own it, but eventually, she said, “Yes, I do.” That was a profound moment for her because up until that point, they’d say that and she’d been insisting, “No, I don’t know.” As long as she’s doing that, there’s nothing you can do about it. If you don’t have favorites and there’s no work for you to be doing. As soon as she was able to own like, “I do have favorites.” Now, we can start to look at something. Now we have something we can do. That’s where all of this work starts. It’s to recognize you have judgments and it doesn’t mean a damn thing. 

You don’t have to do anything about them. That’s everything that we’ve got for you. Next time, we’ve got another series of Along The Spectrum. I had a few people write and one of them shared that he’d liked to hear about presence and radiance. Two qualities that are similar. Presence is more of the quality that men are identified with or tend to identify with, and radiance is more women. That’s the quality of, you can think of it as the X factor. Celebrityness. It’s the quality that has us notice someone in the room. People with a lot of presence or radiance take up a lot of space. We’ll be talking about that quality, how it comes into being, what it looks like, how people show up, what the shadows are, and all of that. If you read to the end of this so far, thanks for reading. 

I want to make a quick plug for the Creating Clients course. We’ve got about four weeks left in the iteration. The next course starts in January 2021. If you’d like to know more about that, you can go to AdamQuiney.com/ClientCreation. The course is profound. It will completely transform your relationship to selling and creating prosperity, and whatever business you work in. We’ve got people taking the course that are coaches, leaders, and some people who own companies that are putting their teams through this because they want to create this new way of being. They want to create a transformation rather than learn a few tips and tricks or the secret sales script that I need to run through to create clients. 

You can give your people a sales script, they will do that sales script, and they will create results that are the expression of getting good at running a sales script. Those results tend to be people coming through the door. A lot of attrition, a lot of people leaving, not a lot of joy, or people are feeling burnt out. It doesn’t have to be that way. In this course, we not only teach you steps that allow you to create a totally different relationship, we cause that transformation in you. It’s a beautiful opportunity. It’s very low cost points. It’s $1,000. You will get a tremendous amount of value from it, I promise. I look forward to hearing from you if that interests you. We’ll talk to you next.

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About Adam Quiney

I’m an obsessive perfectionist, high-performer, former lawyer, and now an Executive Mentor. I know what it’s like to succeed easily and quickly. To blindly put my happiness in the hands of achievement.

All the success, money and possessions in the world couldn’t cure my boredom. Couldn’t produce a loving, intimate relationship with my wife…and definitely couldn’t fulfill me.