Thursday, September 27, 2012

"Use your best judgment"

When someone says "use your best judgment" they're not being specific about what they want. It's a worrying phrase to me because when someone uses it, they're often trying to warn me to meet some standard of behavior or dress, but they're being unclear.  "Use your best judgment" usually means "read my mind and use my best judgment." It assumes we all think the same way and share the same basic cultural behaviors and beliefs. People who use the phrase "use your best judgment" assume everyone thinks as they do on the topic being discussed.

The assumption that everyone has the same basic knowledge leaves out those of us who get "common sense" wrong all the time. We're the ones who don't know what appropriate dress means in all contexts.We're the ones who put our foot in it because we honestly don't know what questions are okay to ask. We take risks not because we're brave, but because we think bringing up such-and-such a topic in such-and-such a context is perfectly okay. It feels right to us. Too often, we realize our mistake when the damage is already done.

So when someone gives me guidance that includes the phrase "use your best judgment" I stop and ask them to be clear enough for an idiot (me) to understand. Chances are my judgment isn't the same as their judgment. Chances are the lessons I've learned about life and the responses I think are appropriate might not be what they have in mind. If someone won't or can't explain what they mean by "use your best judgment," I'm left to draw my own conclusions and that just doesn’t always turn out well.


DeShawn said...

I disagree. I hardly have time or energy to make my own decisions, I can't stand when others want you to decide things for them. You figure it out (not you Regina, but 'you' in general), just like the rest of us. If your best judgment turns out to be inappropriate or just wrong,well that's life.

Jeremy said...

You do not really understand something unless you can explain it to your grandmother. - Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955)

Regina Rodriguez-Martin said...

DeShawn - That's fair. But the kind of person who uses the phrase "use your best judgment" usually wants you to act/dress in a certain way and they're assuming you think the same way they do. When someone really doesn't feel any need to try to control or guide your behavior, they usually use different words, that don't include the word "judgment."

Jeremy - wha-a-a?

Andria Anderson said...

Insightful observation there, Regina. Very occassionally, someone is truly saying, "Whatever you decide is good by me." But generally, it's laziness and assumptions. You pegged that exactly.

Regina Rodriguez-Martin said...

Andria, as I wrote to DeShawn above, when someone is truly comfortable with whatever you decide, they usually don't use the word "judgment." My complaint is with the kind of person who unsolicitedly says "use your best judgment" and really wants me to follow a certain code, but they think I can read their mind for the details.

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