I recently began listening to the book “Non-Violent Communication” by Marshall Rosenberg. Not only has it helped me better communicate (and I’m not even done yet!) it’s brought to my attention an interesting concept I’d like to share: observation versus evaluation. If you’ve read the book, this isn’t anything new to you, but might be a great refresher.
First, I’d like to define what those two words mean. Observation is the action or process of closely observing or monitoring something or someone to gather information. Evaluation is the making of a judgment about the amount, number, or value of something, in this case, the people with whom we are communicating; it is an assessment. Observation is objective. Evaluation is subjective. This is a key differentiation.
What’s important about defining the difference between these two is it affects how we perceive those around us and even our very own lives. It affects how we respond to the human condition. It affects our compassion and communication. It affects every single interaction we have in life. Indian Philosopher J. Krishnamurti has said, “For most of us, it is difficult to make observations, especially of people and their behavior, that are free of judgment, criticism, or other forms of analysis.” Wise words indeed.
For instance, here are some things we might say:
“She is always procrastinating.”
“My kids don’t do what I want.”
“He is a loud mouth.”
If I say these things, I am not making an observation, but an evaluation. If I were making a true observation it would sound more like this:
“She only studies the night before taking an exam.”
“The last four times I’ve asked my children to clean their room they didn’t do it.”
“He talks very loudly.”
When observation gets mixed with evaluation it turns into judgement, which makes it difficult to communicate with those around us effectively. It sounds to them like criticism. Who wants to talk to someone when they feel they are being criticized? When we use comments that are true observations it makes it hard for the other person to disagree or get defensive. Sometimes taking a step back and thinking about how to analyze a situation helps us see it for what it is, and not what we assume it to be. I’ve just been trying this simple concept recently, and it has helped a lot in my personal life. It’s easy to get upset, angry, sad, or frustrated. It’s easy to want to retaliate or defend yourself. It’s easy to brush off feelings and not address our personal concerns. It’s not easy to take a step back and state an observation in those moments (along with how it made you feel, but feelings is a whole other topic Marshall covers in his book. Most of us don’t properly express feelings). I hope this brief introduction gave you some food for thought and that it’s applicable to your own life. I also highly encourage you to read his book “Non-Violent Communication” for more in-depth information on how to communicate in a way that benefits the whole.