Judging, But Not Judgmental: How to Avoid the Pitfalls of the J Personality

Clinically Reviewed by Steven Melendy, PsyD. on August 22, 2016

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.

More from this author...
About the Clinical Reviewer

Steven Melendy, PsyD., is a Clinical Psychologist who received his doctorate from The Wright Institute in Berkeley, California. He specializes in using evidence-based approaches in his work with individuals and groups. Steve has worked with diverse populations and in variety of a settings, from community clinics to SF General Hospital. He believes strongly in the importance of self-care, good friendships, and humor whenever possible.


Guest (not verified) says...

Excellent article, thank you! I recognize more than a few of these characteristics and will certainly strive to integrate this advice into my behavior.

INTJ-MIKE (not verified) says...

From an INTJ: Good advice!

Guest (not verified) says...

Well said! Thank you for taking the time to call out the true nature of the "judger"!

Jill Barlow (not verified) says...

This is very interesting! I enjoy learning things about my personality type.

Jay Rosenberg (not verified) says...

Dear Nathan,
Thoughtful and well presented.
Let me ask you this: We see others through the "lens" of our OWN natural personalities. We are what we are, naturally.
AS an INTJ I see an SJ as detail intensive, tight, organized, unfeeling... and an SP as loose, undirected, self-centered, looking for applause.
There is the Steve Jobs INTJ and the Donald Trump ESTP (arguably, could be NT), an Obama as an INFJ and how can they redirect to change their natural directions.
I am a bottomline INTJ guy, on the paranoid/skeptical side, a competitive person, doing my funky NT stuff.
We see the other types through our own eyes. One person's INTP is another person's INFJ.
Just saying...
There are really in my thinking at least 4 versions of what we see in the other types/temperaments.

wpw2 says...

Four versions, multiple variations, current events, the weather...
I'm an ENFJ, recently in love with an ENFP. Life long I have been painfully acquainted with my best efforts at communication being misunderstood. The pain I feel imagining the pain I've caused unwittingly throughout my life to those whom I have loved being hurt in this way now drives me continually to think before I speak, ask more questions, imagine how I'm being perceived and generally to just speak less. As a result of these practices personal connections have improved markedly and misunderstandings have dwindled to the occasional. My life is happier and I'm better able to connect in casual acquaintances and intimate relation1ships. This all seems like a very high form of self care.
Thank you for your literate and articulate work on this subject. this is very helpful to me and those I love.

pitum (not verified) says...

Hello fellow INTJ! I agree, and would like to add something. In viewing others through the lens of our personality, we would also end up taking into consideration what we view as normal. How would we establish the baseline? For example, if I viewed my (I) disposition as "normal" or not-that-intraverted (when in fact I lean heavily on intraversion), then I would end up mistakenly classifying most people as (E).

To further complicate it, would any person really be able to judge accurately (assuming limited exposure/experience with the subject)? Since people project different selves in the world depending on the situation or who they're interacting with, I don't believe its possible to know an individuals true personality without knowing their different selves.

ikayulis (not verified) says...

From an ISTP: straight to the point!

cnivek61 says...

Helpful article - the bullet-point suggestions near the end are quite useful.

The Elvis Costello lyric attribution, however, is a bit off. He may have sung those lyrics, but the song is "Don't let me be misunderstood" by Eric Burdon and the Animals.

Jared Richo (not verified) says...

Elvis Costello? I believe that quote is incorrectly attributed: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Don't_Let_Me_Be_Misunderstood

Guest (not verified) says...

This article is very helpful. I'm a female INTJ, and "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" is one of all-time favorite songs. It's been a part of my life's soundtrack long before I could truly appreciate the true power of the lyrics. I said all of this to say that the song should be attributed to Nina Simone (lyrics to a list of others) http://www.stereogum.com/1832453/21-covers-of-dont-let-me-be-misundersto...

Donayda A Salomon (not verified) says...

Thank you for this article, everything makes sense now.

Elien (not verified) says...

Thank you so much for this article! 

I always get in trouble with people saying something I did, without me even noticing or meaning it in the first place. Like my ex dumped me for a reason that seemed like a complete lie to me, but... probably he just understood something totally different because I wasn't clear enough in what I meant to say.

Now I even got problems on FB, because I commented on something and my sister was afraid that I was going to hurt people by what I said, what wasn't my intention at all. 

And then I'm always so frustrated because people just seem to make up things than I mean, what I don't mean.... 

I always talk before I think and some people read or hear different things in it than me! So these tips are very helpfull, thank you again. 

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