In theory, the Judging (J) personality dimension in Myers-Briggs typology has nothing to do with being judgmental.

It’s true, those who carry the (J) banner are firm in their opinions and have clear ideas about how things should be done. And they normally pay more attention to details than their Perceiving (P) counterparts, noticing things that companions routinely overlook.

That doesn’t make them intolerant of those who have different ideas or approaches to living, however. In fact most (J) types are strongly interested in promoting social harmony and helping others achieve their highest ambitions, whatever those might be.

But in human communications, noble motives don’t always translate, and this can cause problems for men and women with strong (J) characteristics—in particular for extraverted (J) types who feel an irresistible urge to share, early, often and energetically.  

What You Say May Not Be What They Hear

“I’m just a soul whose intentions are good. Oh Lord please don’t let me be misunderstood.”- Elvis Costello

These song lyrics from the well-known British recording artist—and INTJ—Elvis Costello summarize the difficulties that (J) personalities sometimes face. They feel an urgency and a sense of responsibility to offer their wisdom, and to make a positive impact on society and in the lives of others.

But too often friends, family members and co-workers perceive the contributions of (J) types as criticism, either direct or implied. No one likes being judged, scolded or second-guessed, so we tend to react defensively if we think this is happening.

While even introverted (J) personalities can be seen as overbearing on occasion, misunderstandings and misinterpretations of intent tend to be a bigger problem for extraverted (J) types (ENFJs, ENTJs, ESTJs and ESFJs). These outgoing and gregarious souls are seldom reluctant to offer their opinions, insights or first impressions. They will do so enthusiastically and fully intending to be constructive. Unfortunately, the people receiving advice or feedback aren’t always ready to give their (J) acquaintances the benefit of the doubt.

In any discussion, each party involved relies on their own unique psychological filters to interpret what others are saying. Complicating the situation further, we all bring unrecognized beliefs, assumptions and attitudes to our social interactions that others may detect even though we ourselves remain unaware of their presence.

So if you’re a (J) personality, in some instances others may conclude you’re being judgmental when you really aren’t, simply because that’s how it sounds to them. But in other cases they may accurately perceive your judgmental attitudes despite your belief they don’t exist.

Eliminating Your Judgmental Tendencies and Learning to Make a Better Impression

Obviously none of this is desirable. You no doubt find it depressing and discouraging when people get upset or offended by the things you say or do. This of course can happen to any of us regardless of our personality type, but the spontaneity and directness that extraverted (J) types often display can boost the risk of miscommunication and misunderstanding substantially.

Fortunately this is far from an insurmountable problem. If you have no intention of being judgmental there is really no reason you have to be, either accidentally or on purpose.

If you find yourself frequently being called judgmental, or are worried that others see you that way, here are a few suggestions that can help you shed this unwelcome label:

  • If you aren’t certain whether you should say it, don’t say it: If you have doubts about the wisdom of speaking up, listen to them and stay silent. If you eventually decide it’s important to share your thoughts or ideas you can always do so later, after you’ve had time to think it over.
  • Before you speak, be clear about what you’re trying to accomplish: When you feel the need to offer input, advice, constructive criticism or an alternative viewpoint, pause and ask yourself: “Why am I doing this?” “What is my purpose?” If you tend to be a bit intemperate or indelicate when speaking off-the-cuff (a not-uncommon uncharacteristic among the extraverted (J) population), taking a few extra seconds to reflect before you open your mouth may help you overcome this habit.
  • When in doubt, ask questions: If you see or hear someone doing or saying something that seems wrong or makes you feel uncomfortable, that is the perfect time to open a dialogue. Ask your friend, family member or acquaintance some questions about their statements or behavior, to give them the chance to explain their thoughts or reasoning. You might be surprised by what you learn, and even if you still feel the need to comment, you’ll do so in a non-confrontational context.
  • At the first sign of defensiveness, back off: Teach yourself to watch and listen to your companions closely, observing body language and tone in addition to hearing their words. If during a particular conversation you detect any sign of defensiveness, even the slightest hint, it means your message isn’t getting through or is provoking an unwanted response. When this happens either change the subject, adopt a more light-hearted tone or apologize and explain you’re only trying to help.
  • When offering others your advice and input, let them know why you’re doing it: When you express opinions that seem to come out of the blue, or are accompanied by no further explanation, even those who know you well may wonder where you’re coming from. To avoid confusion, let the people you’re advising, critiquing or disagreeing with know exactly why you felt motivated to speak up. Let them know your goal is to start a meaningful dialogue or to share the benefits of your past experience. When the discussion is finished, at the very least the two of you will agree to disagree and part as friends.
  • Understand who you are and why you react the way you do: If the people you interact with sometimes see you as judgmental it’s not because you frequently disagree with them or their approach. It’s because they believe you don’t respect them and are too stubborn to fairly evaluate alternative pathways or points of view. Think about this, accept it, absorb it, and hold it close to your heart the next time you decide to speak up in a situation where others might misinterpret your words or intentions.
  • Take full responsibility for any misunderstandings: We’ve saved this one for last because it is probably the most important. Don’t rationalize another’s hurt feelings by blaming them for being too sensitive. Even if it’s true, if you want to be seen as respectful and compassionate, you should take that sensitivity into account. As soon as you begin to do this you’ll tap into your natural empathy and gradually transform into a more effective and popular communicator.

Learning to Be Yourself—Your Real Self

You don’t have to hide or abandon your perspectives, values or beliefs to become more accepting of others. And you certainly don’t have to do so to shake a reputation for being judgmental.

If you stay humble, avoid the temptation to speak in absolutes and try to listen others will hear you, understand you and take you more seriously. While most of us are sensitive to criticism we are all receptive when we believe our friends, family members or associates care about our feelings and are trying their very best to be helpful.

If you know or fear that others see you as judgmental, you should see this not as a problem but as a challenge—and one you’re perfectly capable of rising above.

It will take an organized, consistent effort to change. But if your personality test results point toward Judging (J) characteristics, this type of self-development campaign is right up your alley. Remember, you excel at undertaking new projects and seeing them through to a successful conclusion. Being judgmental isn’t really in your nature, but being a dynamic, goal-oriented achiever most certainly is.

Nathan Falde
Nathan Falde has been working as a freelance writer for the past six years. His ghostwritten work and bylined articles have appeared in numerous online outlets, and in 2014-2015 he acted as co-creator for a series of eBooks on the personality types. An INFJ and a native of Wisconsin, Nathan currently lives in Bogota, Colombia with his wife Martha and their son Nicholas.