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A couple of years ago, I was helping facilitate a multi-day business training. I didn’t know any of the other instructors, so when I showed up on the first day, I introduced myself to the training team.
I instantly got a weird vibe from the head trainer.
She ignored my introduction entirely and started spouting off everything that still needed to be done before we could get started. Her frantic energy was palpable, and I could sense it was putting the rest of us on edge.
“She’s probably just nervous about pulling off a great event,” I thought to myself. “Once everything’s ready to go, I’m sure she’ll settle down and be more personable. Don’t think too much of it.”
But once the students showed up and the head trainer started her presentation, my uneasy feeling only intensified.
Her exuberant positivity felt inauthentic and staged, and frankly, it made my skin crawl. She seemed much more interested in sharing stories of her own achievements rather than teaching helpful business concepts. And she would promise that we’d take a break in 10 minutes, but then ramble on for another 45, ignoring the restless energy in the room.
“Don’t be judgmental, Kristen,” I admonished myself. “Just because she’s doing things differently than you would doesn’t make her wrong. Maybe she’s overcompensating for some nervous jitters. Cut her some slack.”
Over the next few days, various things this woman said or did kept rubbing me the wrong way. And each time, I would chastise myself for being judgmental and try to keep an open mind about her.
Round and round it went for 3 days.
Until finally, toward the end of the last day, I admitted to myself, “I just don’t like this woman.”
Ahh, it felt so good to tell the truth! It was such a simple statement, but for me, it was a revelation.
… And then came the guilt.
IT’S OK TO NOT LIKE EVERYONE … AND TO NOT BE LIKED BY EVERYONE
Growing up, I was a serious people pleaser.
As in, I avoided conflict at any cost and wanted everyone to like me all the time. If a friend was annoyed with me, it felt like my world was collapsing. If I disappointed my parents or teachers, I was utterly devastated.
All of that meant that I frequently smiled, bit my tongue, and remained pleasant even when I was about to spill over with frustration, hurt, or disappointment. I told myself I didn’t want to “make a big deal of it” or cause unnecessary tension.
But really, I was terrified of people not liking me if I wasn’t perpetually pleasant.
When being liked by everyone is at the top of your priority list, it follows naturally that you assume you should like everyone else, too. So unless someone was undeniably terrible — mean, violent, cruel, that kind of thing — I believed I should like them.
And if I didn’t like them, then I was the terrible person for being judgmental.
I’M OFFICIALLY GIVING YOU PERMISSION TO TRUST YOUR GUT
A few weeks ago, I was chatting with some friends and recounting the story of how hard it was for me to admit, even just to myself, that I didn’t like that lead trainer. Most of them chimed in with their own similar stories of guilt and confusion about not liking certain people in their life.
We all had no trouble whatsoever responding to one another with things like:
“It’s totally OK that you didn’t like that person!” and “I don’t like the sound of that person, either!” and “Not liking someone does NOT make you a bad person,” and “You’re just sharpening your discernment muscle.”
It got me thinking … why is it so easy to give other people permission to feel how they feel, but we can’t seem to give ourselves the same permission?
I imagined a friend or client telling me the exact story I shared with my friends. I wouldn’t hesitate for even a second before validating their gut instinct and encouraging them to trust their intuitive sense about the person they were feeling weird about.
So I’m making a point to start giving myself the same permission. And for all of my fellow people pleasers out there — I’m giving you the that permission, too:
You are officially allowed to trust your gut instinct and not like certain people who rub you the wrong way.
JUDGMENT VS. DISCERNMENT
At this point, some of you may now be thinking, “So, you’re saying I pretty much get to judge and dislike anyone I want?”
Well … yes and no.
See, there’s a pretty huge difference between judgment and discernment.
Judgment is jumping to conclusions about someone based on very little or irrelevant information. It’s where stereotypes and discrimination and objectification and overgeneralizations come from. It puts people into hierarchies and creates unnecessary separation. It’s ugly and unfair and all-around gross.
Discernment, on the other hand, is an empowering skill worth honing. It’s when you take in all of the information with an open mind, and then decide, “Does this align with me? Does this clash with my values? What is my gut telling me about this?”
Judgment is, “Look at her expensive outfit. I bet she’s a real snob.”
Discernment is, “That person uses disrespectful language that I can’t condone. I’m not interested in sticking around to hear more of their negativity.”
Judgment labels things and people as “good” or “bad,” whereas discernment isn’t interested in praising or condemning — it’s simply seeking “alignment” or “misalignment.”
FREE YOURSELF AND EVERYONE ELSE
The more you let go of judgment and start to practice healthy discernment of everything and everyone in your life, you’ll experience incredible freedom.
Imagine if, instead of viewing people, careers, opportunities, etc., as “right” or “wrong,” “good” or “bad” … you simply asked yourself, “How aligned do I feel with this?”
That small shift could be revolutionary.
When I look back on my experience with that instructor, it’s clear to me that I wasn’t judging her — I was simply recognizing that I wasn’t aligned with her attitude, behavior, and energy.
That doesn’t make either of us bad people — just not right for each other. No hard feelings, no reason to be rude or impolite, and definitely no reason to judge myself.
It’s also freeing to realize that, if you have permission to be discerning and not like people who aren’t aligned with you … you also don’t have to be liked by everyone else. As a recovering people pleaser, this is slightly terrifying, but also such a relief.
When you don’t like someone, it just means you’re not aligned. So if someone doesn’t like you, it also means you’re just not aligned. It’s as simple and impersonal as that.
I’d love to hear from you now! Are you a people pleaser? Have you felt guilty about not liking someone before? How do you feel about this whole “judgment” vs. “discernment” thing? Leave a comment below to share your thoughts!
Kristen (& Rachel)